Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson – Verve Records MG V-8322 (1959)/Universal Music Group B0031689-01 (2020)/Acoustic Sounds Series 180-gram stereo vinyl, ****1/2:
(Louis Armstrong – trumpet, vocals; Oscar Peterson – piano; Herb Ellis – guitar; Ray Brown – double bass; Louis Bellson – drums)
Louis Armstrong is nothing short of an American musical institution. The New Orleans native, known affectionately as “Satchmo” or “Pops” was a pioneer in jazz and popular musical history. In the 1920’s, his influence on the jazz world was extraordinary. He led the movement to embrace individual soloing. His acuity on trumpet and cornet was honed primarily in the South, then Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Additionally, his gravelly voice and distinctive elocution reinvented popular music. He was beloved by fans and fellow musicians and appeared in several movies alongside the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. He was one of the first African-American musicians to connect with white audiences. Hits like “Hello Dolly” (his only Grammy), “What a Wonderful World”, “When The Saints Go Marching In” and “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” are part of American culture. His appearance at the 1964 World Fair in New York was legendary. There has never been a musician that redefined two genres like Armstrong. His collaborative accomplishments are vast and impressive.
In 1957, Armstrong recorded an album with pianist extraordinaire Oscar Peterson for Verve Records. Peterson and his band mates Ray Brown (double bass) and Herb Ellis (guitar) were joined by drummer Louis Bellson to back Armstrong on this jazz “meeting” (one of several in his career). Universal Music Group/Acoustic Sound Series has released a vibrant 180-gram re-mastered vinyl of Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson. Twelve (nearly all standards) concise arrangements showcase the unique vocal interpretative skill of Armstrong. Having a combo with these top-notch players only elevates the proceedings. Side A opens with the often dream-like Lew Brown/Sammy Fain song, “That Old Feeling”. Armstrong and Peterson adapt it to a medium tempo, with Satchmo capturing the tenderness, with jazzy phrasing. The inclusion of improvised “Mama” and “Baby” as exclamations is priceless. Peterson’s bluesy inflections add a lot of texture. Keeping things sprightly, “Let’s Fall In Love” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler) shines a light on the instrumental agility of this ensemble. After some nimble scat singing, Armstrong solos on trumpet with crispness and a long trill. The quartet is in lockstep with significant chemistry Switching to an eclectic number, Frank Signorelli’s “I’ll Never Be The Same” (originally written as an instrumental in 1931) unfolds slowly as a graceful blues opus. Pops glows with vibrato (on vocals) and Peterson’s intuitive piano riffs make this a gem.
Many performers have done covers of “Blues On The Night” (Arlen again, this time with Johnny Mercer). What differentiates this version from others is the authenticity of this unique vocalist. He embraces the broader aesthetics, but without the customary burlesque histrionics. Herb Ellis shines on guitar and there is a judicious trumpet solo. It is a good fit for this group, and has a “live” feel to the recording. Gershwin has always been a challenging favorite for vocalization. In back-to-back tracks, Armstrong sparkles with deftness. The melancholy “How Long Has This Been Going On?” has an extended downtempo verse that Armstrong handles gracefully. His soulful intonation is ear-catching and both Peterson and Ellis add tasteful fills. On “I Was Doing All Right” an opening trumpet lead brings some New Orleans ambiance to this toe-tapping jam.
Side B kicks off with the deliberately-paced big band number, “What’s New”. Accompanied by piano, Armstrong distills the inherent sentiment with his quirky charm. This is a complex vocal, and he never falters right up to the final emotional declaration. In another lesser-known gem (“Moon Song”), Armstrong stretches out on his horn with articulate precision. This sounds like a swinging jam session with Peterson exhorting the group to bluesy contexts. Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things” has been interpreted in both 3 A.M. meditative wistfulness and dynamic swing. Armstrong and Peterson choose the latter. Satchmo executes another fine solo. Peterson adds some definitive jazzy licks before returning to back up mode. Simply put, this is a great song and a great singer!. In a departure, a simpler arrangement of guitar and voice frame the melancholic “There’s No You”. Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson has a big finish with two virtuoso cuts. “You Go To My Head” is a quintessential ballad, strongly associated with Billie Holiday. Louis splits the song evenly between horn and vocals. His exquisite timing is on par with Holiday (Note: there are excellent, incisive liner notes by Leonard Feather). All of the slow-burning intensity is there. It’s hard to imagine anyone besides Nat “King” Cole doing “Sweet Lorraine. The quartet provides a bluesy backdrop to Armstrong’s unhurried instrumentation and soulful, singing. It works!
In the second reissue of the Acoustic Sound Series, Universal Music Group has done a stellar job in re-mastering Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson to 180-gram vinyl. The new mix (Ryan Smith/Sterling Sound) is especially appealing. Armstrong’s edgy vocal tonality is more smooth and fluent, centered directly. Instrumentation never overshadows the singing. A hi-gloss gatefold packaging and upgraded protective sleeve underscore the superior quality of this series. (Chad Kassem/Acoustic Sounds).
Side A: That Old Feeling; Let’s Fall In Love; I’ll Never Be The Same; Blues In The Night; How Long Has This Been Going On?; I was Doing All Right
Side B: What’s New; Moon Song; Just One Of Those Things; There’s No You; You Go To My Head; Sweet Lorraine
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