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Music Review: ‘Louis in London,’ a 1968 live album, captures a joyful, late-career Louis Armstrong

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At the end of his career, every note from Louis Armstrong still exuded the joy of being alive.

That’s true of a live album out Friday titled “Louis in London,” heralded in promotional material as his “last great performance.” The 13-track set captures Armstrong and a strong five-piece backing combo recorded before an audience at the BBC on July 2, 1968. Armstrong’s chronic health issues soon worsened, and he died in 1971.

Nearly half the material on “Louis in London” is previously unreleased, and the album provides a snapshot of Armstrong at a peak of popularity. The performance took place weeks after he reached No. 1 on the UK charts with “What a Wonderful World.”

That song is included, its unabashed sentimentality in defiance of news headlines then and now. Armstrong also has the room swaying to songs from way back when, starting with a hearty reading of his longtime theme song, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.”

The set is primarily a vocal album dominated by Armstrong’s sunny showmanship and unmistakable baritone. His voice dances through every tune, riding improvised flourishes that include wordless grunts, growls and gurgles. Even the simplest lyric benefits from his distinctive stamp: He sings “baby” like no one else.

Armstrong’s trumpet plays only a supporting role, but his still-brilliant tone makes every entrance a bracing embrace. The supporting cast, both tight and loose, includes Tyree Glenn on trombone, Joe Muranyi on clarinet, Marty Napoleon on piano, Buddy Catlett on bass and Danny Barcelona on drums.

They form a parade of sizzling soloists on the two instrumental cuts, Dixieland renditions of “(Back Home Again In) Indiana” and “Ole Miss.” The latter tune, by W.C. Handy, is believed to be the first composition Armstrong played in public.

Armstrong sings “Hello, Dolly!” with a zeal that gets the audience clapping on the backbeat. Other highlights include “Mack the Knife,” with a swinging groove that gradually intensifies, and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair,” a hammy vocal duet with Glenn. “One of them good old good ones,” Armstrong says of the latter song.

The album closes with “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and when Armstrong’s last note gives the final chord a jazzy twist, it’s a sound for eternity.

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For more reviews of recent music releases, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/music-reviews

By STEVEN WINE
Associated Press

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