A Gift to Pops-the wonderful world of louis armstrong all stars Looks Like an Oldies Compilation But Isn't!

When the CD of this release arrived months ago, I looked at it and figured it was an Armstrong compilation and so put it aside. Nothing on the "jewel" case gave any indication that it was anything but and there was no accompanying press blurb.

One day soon thereafter I decided to open and play and wow! It's not a compilation of older Armstrong material after all! It's a compilation of all new recordings mostly produced at Misha Kachkachishvili's Esplanade Studios, where Newvelle recorded it's superb New Orleans Collection, but you probably already know that, perhaps by reading Fred Kaplan's Stereophile review of the CD. Following an Armstrong tribute concert at the Joy of Jazz Festival in South Africa a proposed album took shape to be produced by trumpeter Nicholas Payton. You can read the history in Fred's review but long story short, the results were less than hoped for so a re-do took place at Esplanade with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon producing. Some tunes were re-recorded, others had parts added and others were re-mixed.

Verve bought the project and released the CD that Fred reviewed. As he wrote, the musicians, all well grounded in both traditional and contemporary jazz had a rollicking good time with these tunes, all of which most of you will be well familiar including the overused "What A Wonderful World", which manages to sound fresh here. I decided to wait to review the vinyl (of course) and glad I did! While the CD sounds good, the record cut at Sterling by Joe Nino-Hernes absolutely creams the CD. I don't see how anything comparing the two could think otherwise. This, despite the fact that it's digitally sourced. I brought the LP to the launch of SME's Model 60 and it floored all listeners who were more floored to learn it was digital sourced but of course the key is a great studio, the best microphones and a notably talented engineer.

You can listen to what I heard at home. I wore a set of Sonic Presence "Spatial Microphones" that turn the wearer into a binaural "dummy head" (I hear you, so watch it!) I recorded a track from the album at 48/24 resolution. These are great for "live" recordings, BTW, and I hope to use them at audio shows to bring you the sound in the rooms. How well it works will be clear to you.

Those are the SP15s. i sat still in my listening chair and played the track through the Wilson XVXes pictured here in a panoramic photo that visually distorts, but you get the picture.

And here's the file:

"Live" in room recording

Preferably listen on headphones! And yes, the "live" playback sounds better, but this is pretty good! The people responsible for the microphone system were floored by what you'll hear. I hope you are too.

And, this record is highly recommended for both music and sound.

jazz's picture

but musically this is a 7-8 for me among his works.

Michael Fremer's picture
It's not "Louis" so I'm not sure what you mean!
jazz's picture

„given his own works“.
But I admit it’s a difficult task to cover or honor Pops, Bill Evans, Monk etc.

Intermediate Listener's picture

covered King Oliver, Fats Waller, WC Handy etc. so it’s only fair

Tom L's picture

The WAMM Master or Chronosonic XVXes, which are 10" taller, might have been visually overpowering.

Michael Fremer's picture
The Chronosonic XVX!
Tom L's picture

I realized that after I commented, checked the Wilson website.

Do they scare your friends when they walk into the room?

Michael Fremer's picture
Not after they listen.
xtcfan80's picture

Really nice...Listened to this on headphones with an Audioquest Dragonfly...LIVE sound!

richiep's picture

Thanks for the recommend, I was looking at this and undecided by it being a comp. I've tried to pick up his vinyl releases and have trouble determining the source and it's quality? He was such a master and one of the best in his and an all time musician. His story as many others that were segregated produced some of the most playful and beautiful music in spite of it.

Montpier's picture

Yeah, Armstrong's Hot Five & Seven recordings might be at best about a "4" on the "Sound" scale (and Armstrong's first recordings with King Oliver maybe a "2") but please, at least listen to, let's say "West End Blues" or "Heebie Jeebies" to hear what might be the Big Bang of modern pop music: the virtuoso solo, rhythmic swing, a voice sounding nothing like Caruso with incredible phrasing. And not limited to "jazz": you can hear Armstrong's trumpet (though at the time uncredited) on Jimmy Rogers "Blue Yodel 9"

Admittedly some of his mugging and vaudevillian entertaining is dated, but how many musicians over age 60 can you name that knocked the Beatles out of #1 at the height of Beatlemania? Or have a top 40 hit over 15 years after their death? Or be the vocalist on the closing song of one the top grossing movies of 2021?

On CD, look for used copies of The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven either 2000 CBS Legacy box or JSP remastered by John RT Davies (avoid budget reissues or early CBS digital). Or start with wonderful 1994 CBS Legacy overview box Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 1923-1934. Or look for clean vinyl copies of the mid-50's Columbia four volumes The Louis Armstrong Story.

If you just can't stand listening to anything from the 78 era, on vinyl I'd start with Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy (Analog Spark) or maybe forthcoming Ella & Louis on Verve/Acoustic Sounds. If you're really fixated on sound, go for the audiophile-approved Satchmo Plays King Oliver.

Michael Fremer's picture
Thanks for posting that...
Intermediate Listener's picture

of WC Handy impossible to find. Any experience with Music on Vinyl version?

Montpier's picture

Didn't realize Analog Spark hard to find. Might have been a Barnes & Noble exclusive so possibly still sitting in one of their stores? I've never heard Music on Vinyl or Pure Pleasure versions.

Note that according to 1997 liner notes the master tapes and most safety reels were lost -- replaced by "improved" electronically re-channeled for stereo version, so the 1986 initial CD/concurrent LP substituted inferior alternate takes for several tracks.

For 1997 CD/1999 SACD version a secondary master tape used for an EP release was tracked down, with missing tracks dubbed from best original LP they could find. I'm guessing all subsequent releases have used that as (digitized?) source.

adw's picture

I ordered this LP immediately after reading this column, feeling somewhat proprietary about it on many levels. It's just as awesome as Michael notes, though a Koetsu Rosewood Signature sure helps. I write principally to make two points. First, Jazz Fest will once again do its thing at the end of the month after two years of cancellation. In New Orleans, our excitement over its return is palpable and immeasurable. Those of you who are Fest fans know that the Economy Hall Jazz Tent beautifully honors Pops with the incredible play in the tent hour after hour of the most marvelous Dixieland. The tent has a time machine quality, which I just adore. It's magnificent, truly special. Second, the occasion of the album resonates with the manner in which the City has been trying in its modest way to make amends for the appalling prejudice Pops experienced when he came home in 1949 to reign as Zulu, something he's dreamt of all his life and was so meaningful to him. It was, however, nonetheless, 1949, and hence the height of Jim Crow. The discrimination and racism he experienced here alienated him from New Orleans forever. In expiation, our airport was named after him, Manhattan didn’t do that, and a giant park on Rampart St. was also named after him. And this is the Treme, where he grew up as a boy, famously working on Rampart St. for a Jewish family with a store on Rampart that took a real interest in him. It's beautiful that his name adorns the Treme neighborhood. We can't help feeling like he's ours, like when we eat red beans and rice on Monday, and later in the week. We for sure celebrate Pops at Fest, just like we do Fess, Fats, Cosimo, Ellis, Dr. John, etc. The point is, an LP like this, recorded on Esplanade, not far from Treme, to honor Pops, it makes you glad to be alive, this is a beautiful thing for local folks to have done. Thanks, Michael, for the enthusiastic recommendation. For Analog Planet fans who may be coming, it's imperative not to forget the Gospel Tent. Those who are alive to visit the Tent can direct some thanks to the Great Spirit for surviving the pandemic grave. I'm thinking the Gospel Tent this Fest will be especially amazing this Fest! Thanks Pops. We love you, every local death has someone playing St. James Infirmary somewhere, somehow, I'm partial to the Hot Five version, recorded 1929 (Philips). Pops a young man. Staggering recording. Red beans and ricely yours. adw

Montpier's picture

Hey adw - thanks much for the Jazzfest reco's! Heading to NOLA first time at end of month for the fest. If you're ever in NYC area be sure to check out Armstrong's house museum, apparently one of the very few homes of famous musicians that have been preserved in the US. The gold bathroom fixtures alone are worth the visit, as are the hifi gear in Pops study. https://www.louisarmstronghouse.org

Also, might want to check out Ricky Riccardi's books on Armstrong; it's my understanding that his antipathy to his birthplace traces back to earlier experiences. His reign as King of the Zulus was something he was proud of, but as you might imagine his appearance in blackface was understandably controversial in some quarters, even then....

CG's picture

OK, I bought the Sonic Presence microphones.

What software are you using?


Michael Fremer's picture
I'm using the Tentacle app https://tentaclesync.com/tentacle-apps and you for iPhone you need: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0276/6028/8075/files/How_to_Connect_SP15C_to_iPhone.pdf?v=1621963075