The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946) (Mosaic, seven CDs). Most jazz critics regard the late Twenties and early Thirties as Satchmo’s peak years, but a vocal and steadily growing minority begs to differ. This box set will give them plenty of ammunition. Armstrong had simplified and purified his flamboyant style by the time he signed with Decca in 1935, and no apologies of any kind need be made for the recordings he made with his big band and a delightfully wide variety of guest artists, including Sidney Bechet, Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers. Put on “2:19 Blues,” “Darling Nellie Gray,” “Ev’ntide,” “Jodie Man,” “Jubilee,” “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” or “Wolverine Blues” and you’ll get the point instantly. Many of these 78 sides are comparatively unfamiliar, and all have been digitally remastered to gorgeous effect. Dan Morgenstern’s liner notes deserve a Grammy, or maybe a Nobel Prize. This one’s a must, and then some (TT).
Archives for May 30, 2009
Judith Mackrell, Bloomsbury Ballerina: Lydia Lopokova, Imperial Dancer and Mrs. John Maynard Keynes (Phoenix, $14.95 paper). She was a star of the Ballets Russes whose long list of lovers included Igor Stravinsky and Heywood Broun. He was a world-famous economist, a member of the Bloomsbury circle, and a confirmed homosexual. They were, in short, the least likely of couples–but they fell in love, married, and lived happily ever after, much to the dismay of Keynes’ viciously snobbish friends, Virginia Woolf foremost among them. Their story had previously been told in bits and pieces, but Judith Mackrell, the dance critic of the Guardian, has now given us an impeccably well-written book that pulls a half-forgotten ballerina out of the memory hole and restores her to her proper place among the key figures of twentieth-century ballet. Lopokova’s marriage to Keynes turns out to have been a full-fledged romance on both sides, and Mackrell describes it with sympathy and candor. Rarely have I read a better dance biography–or a more touching love story (TT).
I panned every musical that opened on Broadway in the 2008-09 season, revivals included. While this may well say more about me than it does about Broadway, I’m more inclined to think that my unfailing displeasure points to something amiss with contemporary musical comedy. In my “Sightings” column for Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, I argue that the Broadway musical is suffering from four chronic problems that have grown increasingly pronounced in recent seasons. To find out what they are, pick up a copy of today’s Journal and see what I have to say.
UPDATE: Read the whole thing here.