New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

A Rare Live Recording of Louis Armstrong at the Top of His Game in Europe

Today we celebrate 4/20 with the stoner king of jazz trumpet, Louis Armstrong. Satchmo was by all accounts a Snoop Dogg-class smoker who always carried the finest mezz. How stoned does he sound on the recently discovered Armstrong in Europe – streaming at Spotify – a live set recorded at the 1948 Nice International Jazz Festival,, leading a quintet with pianist Earl Hines, trombonist Jack Teagarden, bassist Arvell Shaw, drummer Sid Catlett and clarinetist Barney Bigard?

Not at all, actually. If anybody seems high, it’s the other guys in the band. After the intros – Hines noodling away behind them – the group racewalk through a brief couple of verses of the dixieland-flavored Muskrat Ramble. Armstrong and Teagarden then share sly vocals on the slow blues Rocking Chair, the trombonist’s blip of a solo followed by a flare of a trumpet coda from Satchmo.

The rest of the record is a lot like that. This is a boisterously entertaining party album in rustic mono sound that varies from track to track, up and down volumewise: audience applause is kept to a minimum for the most part. On the mic, Armstrong teases the rhythm but he is all business when he picks up his horn.

They follow with Rose Room, a briskly tiptoeing platform for spiraling, crystalline, drolly ostentatious clarinet accented by the bandleader. Royal Garden Blues has some neatly triangulated conversations between the horns, Hines adding vaudevillian flourishes.

Hines imbues Panama with ragtime sparkle alongside the animatedly intertwined horns. Armstrong’s strutting take of On the Sunny Side of the Street gets more winkingly genial as it goes along: the audience loves that. His ambered, straightforward playing on the gospel-infused Mahogany Hall is one of the high points of the show; the band mess with the audience via a series of false endings as they careen their way out.

The midtempo drag Black and Blue has a similar, circumspect soulfulness: “My only sin is in my skin” packs a nonchalant wallop. From there the band scamper through Them There Eyes and back away for a more wrly somber take of This Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.

They keep the Big Easy vibe going tightly with Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, then offer a nod to the crowd with Coquette, Hines and Teagarden taking centerstage. Guest chanteuse Velma Middleton takes over on a slightly more low-key Lover Come Back to Me; then, on Can Anyone Explain she has to summon the bandleader to the mic for a dirty joke that these Francophones completely miss.

Tin Roof Blues, the quietest song of the set, is ironically a lauching pad for the most compelling solos of the night. The group close counterintuitively with the slow, lushly nocturnal A Kiss to Build a Dream On. At the time this recording was made, jazz was the western world’s default dance and party music, to a large extent because of these guys onstage.

A Breathtaking, Hall of Fame Jazz Summit with Kenny Barron, Dave Holland and Johnathan Blake

The album cover image says “The Kenny Barron-Dave Holland Trio Featuring Johnathan Blake.” The new record, Without Deception – streaming at youtube – is going to draw innumerable obvious comparisons to the classic Barron trio of the 90s with Ron Carter on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, but this is a completely different animal. That group’s brilliance notwithstanding, it’s rare that you encounter a meeting of the minds this smart, or downright exciting, a real cross-generational summit.

This is the kind of record that you hear and ask yourself, why did I take so damn long to listen to this? Barron tends to be more about simmer than blaze here, but that’s where his bandmates step in.

That’s obvious right off the bat with Porto Alegri, a bossa. Blake is more of an extrovert than Nash and does his best work in a trio setting, whether his own or others. Case in point: his wry cymbal flashes to open the song, not to mention that rolling-thunder soundscape over Barron’s eerily muted vamp afterward. The pianist also doesn’t waste any time ceding the spotlight to Holland’s dancing solo.

The band veer in and out of a casual stroll in the aptly titled, wary Second Thoughts. Blake is exceptional on this – a single muted tom hit for shock, a press roll to surprise, and a pervasive cymbal mist are just part of his game. So is Holland, voicing an airy midrange horn line and then chugging back into the lows.

Barron establishes a similarly regal, modal disquiet and then goes shuffling toward wry Mose Allison territory in the album’s title track. The three revert to rather majestic bossa territory with Until Then, Blake never breaking the clave despite all the elegant boom and crash. They scamper through Speed Trap, Barron’s Monkish disquiet matched by Holland’s bobbing bass, Blake bringing the storm.

The jazz waltz Secret Places is far more pervasively dark and bluesily anthemic: in a surprisingly understated way, it’s the album’s high point. Blake begins Pass It On with a resolute centercourt solo, waiting for his bandmates to get in the paint and take it to deep, bluesy New Orleans. Then Barron brings a raptly lingering, spacious soulfulness to the Ellington nocturne Warm Valley,

The group balance gravitas with a tropical lilt in the album’s most expansive number, I Remember When, lit up with edgy cascades from Barron, a brooding bounce from Holland and all sorts of fleet-fingered touches from Blake. The trio end the album with the tropicalized yet enigmatic Worry Later. A clinic in tunesmithing and teamwork from three of this era’s best.