Monday, May 24, 2010

Hot Fives and Sevens, vol 1 (1925-26)

Sólo una pega tiene esta monumental colección en cuatro entregas de los primeros y decisivos discos de Louis Armstrong a su propio nombre, para convertirla en definitiva. Y no es un inconveniente insignificante, dado el nivel de los contenidos: las portadas. ¡Horrorosas! Como la mayoría de las reediciones de clásicos tempranos de jazz y blues por el sello de John Stedman en los años 90 (véase "Lonnie Johnson Playing with the Strings", por ejemplo, en este blog también), la selección de material, el remasterizado y las documentadas notas son modélicos, pero, amigo, es que las dichosas portadas... ¡parecen sacadas de cualquiera de esas colecciones "Vuelve el Blues" Made in Spain que proliferaron como nocivos hongos en otros tiempos no muy lejanos! Precisamente en Gran Bretaña, donde hay una tradición señera de buen gusto en los temas gráficos que se remonta... ¡joder, hasta William Morris a medidos del XIX, por lo menos!
Dado que se trata de música que hemos degustado y vuelto a degustar, sin el menor empacho,
tropecientas mil veces en LP, en cassette y en CD, y que vamos a seguir escuchando en MP3 y en lo que sea per secula seculorum, no me parece un tema baladí esto de "las carátulas". Además, mire usted, el iPod y similares están muy bien, pero los que crecimos rodeados de LPs, siempre necesitaremos asociar la música con algún tipo de imagen gráfica que le haga una mínima justicia. En fin, desde este rinconcete intentaremos hacer lo que se pueda al respecto (por ahí andan las portadas de los álbumes Columbia Jazz Masterpieces de los 80, por ejemplo, que son harina de otro costal).
Y tras este cabreado pero oportuno preámbulo, les dejo ya con la reseña y las
liner notes [click en los temas para escuchar aparte] de este Santo Grial de la música americana y mundial: los Hot Five y Hot Seven de Louis Armstrong.
~ Jay Bee Rodríguez

With superior tr
ansfers by British music engineer John RT Davies, this JSP reissue of the first 25 sides by Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Hot Sevens is a first-choice disc for newcomers, while also being a very worthwhile purchase for the discriminating fan. Columbia's more high-profile, yet poorly remastered early Armstrong releases are muddy and limp sounding in comparison. Studio discrepancies aside, these records represent one of highest achievements in jazz and all of music for that matter. Armstrong 's brash and advanced trumpet playing transformed jazz from the somewhat stilted ensemble polyphony of New Orleans to the fluid art of the improvising soloist, paving the way for the advances of swing and bebop and sparking the equally bold conceptions of future jazz luminaries Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker. And although these Chicago recordings (1925-1926) do not include later milestones like "West End Blues" and "Weather Bird," there's plenty here in the way of Armstrong's innovations: his stop-time solo on "Cornet Chop Suey" and the early scat singing on "Heebie Jeebies." And beyond textbook considerations, there's Armstrong's infectious spoken commentary and vocals on "Gut Bucket Blues" and "Big Butter and Egg Man From the West," not to mention his joyous trumpet exclamations on "Yes, I'm in the Barrel" and "Muskrat Rumble." Topped off with fine contributions by Hot Five regulars clarinetist Johnny Dodds, trombonist Kid Ory, pianist and wife at the time Lil Armstrong, and banjo player Johnny St. Cyr, this Armstrong release is not to be missed. Essential music for any record collection.
~ Stephen Cook, All Music Guide



01. My Heart
02. Yes! I’m In The Barrel
03. A Gut Bucket Blues
04. Come Back, Sweet Papa
05. Georgia Grind
06. Heebie Jeebies
07. Comet Chop Suey
08. Oriental Strut
09. You’re Next
10. Muskrat Ramble
11. Don’t Forget To Mess Around
12. I’m Gonna Gitcha
13. Dropping Shucks
14. Who’ sit
15. He Likes It Slow
16. The King of the Zulus
17. Big Fat Ma and Skinny Pa
18. Lonesome Blues
19. Sweet Little Papa
20. Jazz Lips
21. Skid-Dat-De-Dat
22. Big Butter and Egg Man from the West
23. Sunset Café Stomp
24. You Made Me Love You
25. Irish Black Bottom

Chicago – Nov. 1925 to Nov. 1926



Liner Notes:

Few jazz records can have had so drastic an impact as the series Louis Armstrong began making in Chicago during the autumn of 1925. Three years earlier he had caught the train from New Orleans to Chicago to join King Oliver's band on second cornet. In 1923 that band's pianist, Lil Hardin, became his second wife and promptly began planning a career for her husband. It was she who persuaded him to hand in his notice to Oliver, then to accept an offer to work in the big band that Fletcher Henderson was leading at New York's Roseland Ballroom. At the first rehearsal Henderson's musicians were skeptical about this cornet player from out of town who looked like a simple country boy ("He was big and fat and wore high-top shoes with hooks in them, and long underwear down to his socks" was how Don Redman, Henderson's arranger, recalled that original encounter). But Armstrong brought with him a rhythmic sophistication and a boldness of imagination that was a revelation to even the most hardened of New York professionals.

A year later – in the first week of November, 1925 – Louis Armstrong returned to Chicago and immediately set about performing in the cabarets and theatres which catered for black audiences. Lil had organized a band to feature him at the Dreamland Cafe on South State Street. The following month he also began working with Erskine Tate's twenty-piece "Little Symphony" Orchestra at the nearby Vendome Theatre. At both venues he played in a style that was noticeably more advanced than what his contemporaries were up to. And within a week of arriving back in Chicago he had begun making records with the group he called his Hot Five, records which at the beginning, anyway – used the collective improvising typical of New Orleans bands and were aimed at the vast numbers of Southern blacks who had moved northward during and just after World War I.

Four members of the Hot Five – Armstrong, his wife Lil, Johnny Dodds and Johnny St Cyr – had worked alongside one another in King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band; Armstrong had played the cornet with Kid Ory's band in New Orleans not long before leaving for Chicago and Ory was now playing with him nightly at the Dreamland Cafe. So the musicians knew one another well enough to be relaxed. Indeed, every recording by the Hot five was a "first take" with no worrying out fluffs or missed cues or other occasional streaky moments. The first session was something of a warm-up, a preparation for a more ambitious future. Even the tune titles had a homely flavour. Yes, I'm In The Barrel was slang for being without money (in other words, if you couldn't afford clothes you wore a barrel instead). In Gut Bucket Blues (a gut bucket collected the drippings from wine and beer barrels in barrel houses) Armstrong introduced everybody in the band. It is noticeable, in fact, that Armstrong's voice came to be heard regularly on his own records (he had, he declared later, resented Fletcher Henderson's reluctance to allow him to sing). In February 1926 he could be said to have popularized scat singing by his gravelly improvising on Heebie Jeebies. It was not the first scat to get on to record (that honour seems to belong to Don Redman on Fletcher Henderson's 1924 version of My Papa Doesn't Two-Time No Time) but it certainly became the most influential.

Heebie Jeebies was Armstrong's first hit record, selling 40,000 copies with a few weeks. But fellow cornet players were overwhelmed by another recording made at that session, one that seems lucky to have been released (a test pressing found many years later had "Recommended for rejection" scribbled on its label). That was Cornet Chop Suey, full of exciting stop-time solo work and demonstrating how Armstrong was breaking away from the tradition of New Orleans ensemble playing, turning instead into an individual virtuoso. That session also saw the first recording of Muskrat Ramble, destined to become one of the most enduring of all Dixieland-style tunes. Martin Williams (in "Jazz Masters of New Orleans") has outlined the conflict of evidence about its composition. Kid Ory claimed to have written it in 1921 while working at a taxi dance-hall in Los Angeles ("It had no name then", he recalled, "Lil Armstrong gave it that title at the record session". On the other hand, Louis Armstrong, interviewed by 'Down Beat', also claimed that he wrote the tune ("Ory named it, he gets the royalties," he said, "I don't talk about it"). Meanwhile Sidney Bechet maintained that at least part of theme had come from an old folksong, The Old Cow died and the Old Man Cried.

The Hot Five performed together in public on only two occasions. Both took place – the first on February 27,1926, the second on June 12 – at the Coliseum Theatre. Both were organized by the Okeh Record Company in association with the local black musicians' union. Bands taking part included those of King Oliver, Charlie Elgar, Bennie Moten and Erskine Tate as well as the Hot Five, while among the singers were Lonnie Johnson, Sara Martin, Chippie Hall, Sippie Wallace and the duo of Butterbeans and Susie. Perhaps that occasion prompted Okeh to use the Hot Five to accompany the last-named two performers on He Likes It Slow, recorded about a week after the concert. Jody ("Butterbeans") Edwards came from Georgia, his wife Susie from Florida. They had been, respectively, fifteen and fourteen when they were married – on-stage – in 1916. They remained favourites; on the black vaudeville circuit for decade after decade, recording for the last time only a short while before their deaths in the early 1960s.

A couple of days earlier. Armstrong's Hot Five recorded a set of pieces that reflected the pop-song patterns of 1926. Just as he had done in the earlier Come Back Sweet Papa. Johnny Dodds played alto saxophone In Don't Forget To Mess Around, while Who' sit had Armstrong taking a chorus on the Swanee (or slide) whistle, a popular novelty Instrument of the day. The session that took place on June 23 allowed Clarence Babcock to earn a tiny niche in history by acting as master of ceremonies in Big Fat Ma and Skinny Pa, and, more memorably, as the intrusive West Indian character offering to play “one o’ me matove jazz tunes" in The King Of The Zulus (subtitled "A Chit'lin' Rag"). The reference here was to the Zulu Aid and Pleasure Club, one of the organisations which takes a prominent part in the annual Mardi Gras Parade in New Orleans. By a pleasing twist of history, Armstrong himself was in 1949 to be crowned King of the Zulus - and to ride in the parade.

Five months later the Hot Five came up with two of their very finest performances. In both his singing and playing on Skid·Dat-De-Dat Armstrong began exploring a melancholy ambience & bringing to it his own mixture of the poignant and the majestic. A different kind of eloquence, exuberant rather than introspective, emerged in his solo on Big Butter and Egg Man. That was one of several pieces devised by Percy Venable, who produced the floor/shows at the Sunset Club where Armstrong was currently featured with Carroll Dickerson's Orchestra, May Alix, who sings on both that track and Sunset Cafe Stomp, was part of that floor show and most renowned for a running split which had her sliding halfway across the clubs' small stage. Venable also collaborated with Armstrong on You Made Me Love You When I Saw You Cry – not to be confused with James V. Monaco's more famous You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want To Do It), published in 1913 ... and Irish Black Bottom ("I was born in Ireland" may be the most unlikely line Armstrong was ever called upon to sing.

Kid Ory had to miss the Hot Five’s final session in 1926. Otherwise the personnel had remained unchanged throughout the preceding twelve months. It was a period which saw Louis Armstrong's emergence as a blazing new presence in jazz cornet player who elbowed his way out of the ensemble to become the music's first great soloist.

During the following year he not only consolidated that reputation but with his expanded group, the Hot Seven, took jazz to even greater heights of virtuosity and expressiveness.
- Charles Fox


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