Friday, March 30, 2018

Louis Armstrong & Oscar Peterson, 1957

Though his career began back in the twenties, Louis Armstrong cut some of his best albums in the 1950s—Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy, his classic collaborations with Ella Fitzgerald for Verve, and Louis Under the Stars are just a few examples. Perhaps because of the sheer quantity and quality of his recordings from this era, his 1957 meeting with pianist Oscar Peterson is often forgotten or overlooked by critics, and very unjustly so. Predictably titled Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson, the album was recorded in Hollywood over the course of two separate sessions in July and October 1957 and finds Satchmo at his most laid-back and relaxed, going through a number of well-chosen standards with the inestimable help of Peterson's quartet. Armstrong's vocalizing is showcased to a greater extent than his trumpet playing (though he takes some exciting solos, such as on "Let's Fall in Love" and "Moon Song") which may be another reason that has affected the visibility of the record and its lukewarm critical reception.

Brown, Peterson, and Ellis
But no matter, because the mood achieved by Armstrong, Peterson, guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Louis Bellson is delightful. The album opener, "That Old Feeling," sets the pace as the dates are mostly dominated by medium tempos, which works really well with tunes such as "I Was Doing All Right," "Just One of Those Things," and "Sweet Lorraine." Armstrong typically sings to the accompaniment of the Peterson trio plus Bellson, occasionally throwing in trumpet solos that aren't as brief as some critics have noted. The bluesy 5-minute reading of "Blues in the Night" is arguably one of the highlights of the sessions, which also yielded some excellent slow numbers, such as "How Long Has This Been Going On?" and "What's New?" On "There's No You," Armstrong's voice is backed only by Ellis's lovely guitar, and the track makes us wish Satchmo had recorded a whole album with Ellis, something that, alas, never happened. The slow, wistful approach to "You Go to My Head" is yet another memorable performance that has Armstrong playing the tune once through and then going into the vocals. The 1997 CD reissue fortunately offers four extra tracks ("I Get a Kick Out of You," "Makin' Whoopee," "Willow Weep for Me," and "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)") that never made it to the original vinyl release but that are equally engaging. Once again, producer Norman Granz was right in pairing Louis and Oscar, and over 60 years later, the outcome of their collaboration is in need of rediscovery and reevaluation.

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