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Salient. Victoria University Students' Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 25. October 4, 1976

Louis Armstrong's Greatest Hits

Louis Armstrong's Greatest Hits

Louis Armstrong's Greatest Hits makes magnificent listening. Displaying little of the swan song serenity of "What a Wonderful World', this is Satchmo at his most envigorating. If his genius can be explained, it must have something to do with the glorious depths of life with which he infects his music. His voice, his trumpet contain the whole gamut of emotions within a twinkling grin.

All of the tracks on this record were taken from concerts done in 1955-56 (with the exception of 'Cabaret' in 1966), but the original recordings date back to the 1920's. The production standard is remarkably high, with the audience noise kept to a bare minimum. Vocal work features almost throughout The only disappointment is that the album isn't big enough: inevitably it contains only some of his greatest hits (and for some unfortunate reason, only 12 of the 13 listed tracks are actually present).

The extraordinary thing about Armstrong is that every song he sings seems to have been written for him. Thus we have 'Mack the Knife' which opens side one: the perfect vehicle for his gravly voice, with brass giving way to exactly appropriate lilting piano and percussion. This is the best version of the song I know. And "All of Me", well-known to Billie Holliday enthusiasts, which proves Satchmo can be as tender as the best. 'Cabaret' sacrifices the raucous vigour of the atmosphere to the philosophical strain of the lyrics. Ten years older, there is a slightly different artist at work here, more sophisticated but still in superb control. 'West End Blues' is a remarkable epitome of Satchmo's elusive style: he ranges from Dixie to Chicago without ever losing his own unique character. The liner notes claim this is a track every trumpet player tried to match him or and failed: an extravagent statement but I almost believe it. 'Back O'Town Blues', an Armstrong original built up around conventional bluesy verse with strong brass chorus lines, features the maestro at his most approachable, as he back-chats his way through with the bandleader:

'Lay it on 'em Satchmo

lay it on 'em.'

Shall I tell' em everthing?'

'Yeah you tell 'em everything'

'Ok boss —

Never mistreat your woman

Or its gonna bounce right back at you'

That ain't no stage-joke either daddy.'

Final mention must go to 'Basin Street Blues', a tribute to New Orleans in whch the words succumb to raspy gurgles of pure affection, in turn sacrificed to a rollicking trumpet one just knows will never be surpassed.

Simon Wilson.