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March 30, 1995 - Image 19

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The Michigan Daily, 1995-03-30

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The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, March 30, 1995 - 5

Armstrong has been to the moon

By Dirk Shuize
Daily Arts Writer
The most common flaw of box
sets is an attempt to cover too much
ground within the confines of three or
four CDs. Columbia/Legacy appar-
ently realized this and rather than
attempt to pack any sort of overview
of Louis Armstrong's entire career
onto four discs, which would be di-
sastrous and full of gaps, the com-
pany turned to the first 11 years of his
recorded life for "Portraitof the Artist
as a Young Man (1923-1934)," an
astoundingly strong collection of the
sides Armstrong cut while revolu-
tionizing jazz.
Over the course of the set's four
CDs, Armstrong is presented in a va-
riety of settings, from his first record-
ings with King Oliver to his own Hot
Four, Five and Seven, and from
sideman positions to the leader of His
Orchestra. Even the 81 tracks included
here cannot contain all of his various
incarnations but they do a mighty
admirable job of trying.
The collection opens with three
tracks Armstrong recorded as part of
King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band in
1923, a landmark year for jazz in
which not only Oliver first recorded
but Jelly Roll Morton and Bessie
Smith did so as well. The real strength
of Oliver's ensemble, besides the way
they could, even in 1923, swing, was
in the two-cornet breaks that he and
Armstrong shared. "Snake Rag" of-
fers seven of them, each one more
exciting than the last, the cornets of
the two players weaving in and around
one another in dazzling figures. The
presence of "Tears," written by
Armstrong and his wife Lillian, makes
for an interesting comparison between
the respective composing geniuses of
he and Oliver, who wrote most of the
band's material.
Maggie Jones was the first real
blues singer Armstrong accompanied
and the beautiful complimentary

phrases he spins around her voice
during "Anybody Here Want to Try
My Cabbage" and "Good Time Flat
Blues" prove that even in 1924 he was
far ahead of anyone else in the game.
Only one month later, he cut his first
sides with Bessie Smith ("Sobbin'
Hearted Blues" and a stately rendi-
tion of "St. Louis Blues" are included
here) which became much more fa-
mous but are no more touching than
the Jones numbers..
Also included on the first disc is a
number of tracks recorded with
Clarence Williams's Blue Five, a band
that, in most of its forms, paired
Armstrong with another jazz legend,
Sidney Bechet. "Cake Walking Ba-
bies (From Home)" in particular finds
Armstrong breaking free of all rules
and expectations in a brilliant stop-
time figure that closes the song.
In 1925, Armstrong put together
the first incarnation of the Hot Fives,
an ensemble that could finally show-
case him. The only track from that
.first session included here, "Gut
Bucket Blues," closes out the first
disc, leaving Armstrong on the cusp
of making a full break from his work
as a sideman or member of others'
bands, though still surrounded by ex-
tremely capable musicians, including
Johnny Dodds on clarinet. Three
months after that session, the Hot
Fives scored their first hit with
"Heebie Jeebies," which is not in and
of itself an amazing number but on
which Armstrong virtually invented
scat singing.
Just how well Armstrong could
swing is evidenton "PotatoHeadBlues,"
on which the Hot Fives were augmented
by a tuba and percussion, making for
the Hot Sevens. His solo is not only
perfectly rendered in tone, time and
feeling but the whole band seems to
rejoice in his mastery as they swing
hard on theway out. Equally wonderful
is his scat performance on "Hotter Than
That," augmented by Lonnie Johnson's

playful guitar work that first supports.
and then jousts with him.
The last appearance by the Hot Five
on this collection is made in the form of.
"Tight Like This," a number recorded
in 1928 that features some absolutely
way-out piano by Earl Hines. From that
point, midway on the third disc, on,
-most of the tracks are done by LouisA
Armstrong and His Orchestra, includ-
ing the landmark "I Can't Give You.
Anything But Love," a pop tune that
Armstrong took and transformed, treat-
ing it to incredibly soulful vocals anda
trumpet solo that climaxes the song on
an augmented fifth, appropriated by be-
bop 20 years later.
The most novel item in the collec-
tion comes early on the fourth disc on
"Blue Yodel No. 9." On this cut,
Armstrong plays sideman for Jimmy
Rodgers, a country musician with a
deep love for jazz and blues. It is not
a great performance but it demon-..
strates just how adaptable the man.
was, wrapping his trumpet around
Rodgers slightly odd lines.
If there was any doubt left 6y 1930'
just how looming a figure Armstrong
was, it was erased with "I'm a Ding
Dong Daddy (From Dumas)," re-
corded with His Orchestra. During
the chorus solos, Armstrong abso-.
lutely cuts loose with his" trumpet,
spinning out idea after idea, many of
which have become standards in the
jazz vocabulary, making it only too
easy to overlook exactly how new his
sound really was. It's a sound that
will never be forgotten, a joyous cel-
ebration of tone and beauty, of rhythm
and brilliance.
By focussing only on those un-
questionably seminal 11 years, from.
the time of his first recordings to his,
European recording debut just before
he took a year off from recording,.
Legacy has produced a masterpiecee
of a box set. "Portrait of the Artist as
a Young Man" should set a new stan-,.
dard for such collections.

Louis Armstrong: lets give him a new nickname, cuz Satchmo is just overused. How about Spit Valve?
Don't protest the good music of Ochs

By Dirk Shuize
*aily Arts Wrter
Few artists wrote more than one or
two really good protest songs; fewer
still had it in them to make entire
albums ofdecent material. Bob Dylan
is the most obvious of those to emerge
from the '60s in good musical stand-
ing though his contribution to protest
music really consists of only a handful
of songs, opting for rock 'n' roll and
stunning poetry. Dylan's only match
n the protest circuit was Phil Ochs,
an outraged and devoted activist who
found an angry release in his songs
from the frustration of a country that
no longer seemed to care what its
people thought.
Born in El Paso, Texas in 1940,
Ochs was 20 when he dropped out of
Ohio State University after being re-
fused editorship of the university's
iewspaper due to his ever-leftward-
leaning views. He was swept up in the
folk movement booming in Green-
wich Village, a movement bound in

unrestful youth and the conviction
that change was necessary. Tireless
and convinced that songs could change
the world, Ochs released two of the
most important protest albums of the
latter halfof the 20th century: "All the
News That's Fit to Sing" and "I Ain't
Marching Anymore," both of which
languished out of print for many years
until Rykodisc reissued both last year.
Featuring Danny Kalb on second
guitar, "All the News" sounds only
slightly dated from the 30 years that
passed between its initial release and
its reissue. A few tracks focus too
much on a specific event to remain
relevant. Others, "Lou Marsh" and
"Talking Cuban Crisis" among them,
are bound only slightly by their his-
torical base. Ochs' humanity and vi-
sion ultimately keep them up to date.
The strongest material on Ochs'
debut has not aged at all, however.
"One More Parade" is still one of the
best condemnations of the war men-
tality even written, his pen sparing no

one. Likewise, "The Power and the
Glory," a moving celebration of
America, its land, its people and its
potential for greatness is as powerful
and hopeful now as in 1964, if not
needed even more.
Ochs released "I Ain't Marching
Anymore" a year later and it still
stands as one of the best examples
of the possibility for creativity and
beauty within protest music. Noth-
ing sounds dated here, not the scath-
ing look at the death penalty ("Iron
Lady"), nor the chronicle of a race
riot ("In the Heat of the Summer"),
not the ultra-sarcastic look at the
mass evasion of the draft America
saw in the'60s ("Draft Dodger Rag")
nor his stirring call-to-arms, "Days
of Decision."The specifics of a song
like "Days of Decision," with lines
like "There's warnings of fire, warn-
ings of flood /Now there's the warn-
ing of the bullets and the blood/
From the three bodies buried in the
See OCHS, Page 6

___j

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