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Monday, June 07, 2021

The Louis Armstrong Legacy

MOSAIC RECORDS, that scrappy little jazz-reissue house that specializes in offering handsome, thorough, excellently remastered sets, has been very attentive to the Louis Armstrong legacy. First there were six CDs covering the Decca recordings of the All-Stars from 1950-58, then all of the (pre-All-Stars) Decca studio recordings from 1935-46 (six CDs). Most recently we switched labels (as Armstrong did) to get the All-Stars recorded live between 1947 and 1958 for Columbia and RCA (a whopping nine discs) ... which set the stage for what happened next.

The latest Mosaic Armstrong release stays with those two labels (now both owned by Sony, which makes such reissues easier) but goes back to studio recordings – specifically, seven discs’ worth that cover the last of his big (and I do mean big) band recordings for RCA, and three concept albums he cut for Columbia. All material that’s been reissued before on the original labels, but not in audio quality like this, not with fantastic liner notes like this – and not with so many compelling extras.

The RCA years begin with a session put together to feature Esquire magazine’s 1946 jazz-poll winners, a list heavily influenced by the magazine’s columnist, Leonard Feather, who also helmed the recording session. And I’d like to salute Ricky Riccardi, who wrote the excellent booklet text (about whom more later) for his clear-eyed appraisal of Feather’s tiresome, meddlesome nature. There was a man who set himself up as a jazz savant in order to impose his own limited-interest opinions – and some mediocre songs – on a public looking for guidance.

Friday, June 04, 2021

Ballet Gets Modern

 From the Terpsichorean Vault Dept.: No ballet at the Saratoga Performance Arts Center this summer, and I fear we’re getting accustomed to that, as dance in general recedes from public view. Here (as you suspected would be the case) is a look back, to what was going on there in 1988.


WHAT HAS 40 YEARS brought to us in the world of American Music?

If Tuesday night’s offerings of the New York City Ballet’s American Music Festival are any indication, new works benefit from a considered look over the shoulder. The program at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center included a new piece that harkened back to an old one, an old one that still sounds new, and a new one that tried self-consciously hard to sound newer than new.

Helene Alexopoulos
Leslie Stuck’s “Behind the China Dogs,” which had its Saratoga premiere, is a modernist work that never lets you forget how modern it is. It’s also pretty funny.

Choreographed by William Forsythe, artistic director of the Frankfurt Ballet and frequent collaborator with Stuck, it takes a fill-in-the-blank approach to what’s avant-garde. “Behind the China Dogs” could as easily be titled “Under the Tattersall Sofa,” except that it would deprive us of the accessory of several sculpted dachshunds stoically guarding the upstage area.

The costuming is the tip-off. With a corps of men dressed in black shorts, checkered vests and grey socks, how solemn an enterprise can this be? The women similarly lampoon formality with an illusion of evening gown suggested by leotard and body stocking.