Friday, July 13, 2007

We'll Be Together Again

Recorded August 14, 1957
Track time: 4:06
Written by Carl Fischer and Frankie Laine
Recorded in Los Angeles, CA
Accompanied by Russell Garcia and orchestra (Paul Smith, piano, Alvin Stoller, drums, among others)
Arranged by Russ Garcia
Released on the Verve LP "I've Got The World On A String"
Currently on CD: "I've Got The World On A String/Louis Under the Stars"
Available on Itunes? Yes

This track comes from the undervalued series of recordings Armstrong made for jazz producer and empresario Norman Granz's Verve label in 1956 and 1957. Almost everyone is familiar with Armstrong's Verve duet recordings with Ella Fitzgerald (Verve has resissued them in about 67 different CDs and I think they'll be repackaged and rereleased yet again before the year is up). But Armstrong also made two recordings backed by a studio orchestra arranged and conducted by Russell Garcia, as well as a collaboratio nwith Oscar Peterson's trio (plus Louie Bellson on drums) that's quite wonderful. The Garcia sessions are a mixed bag: the material is quite excelent and Granz and should be applauded for throwing such challenging material Armstrong's way. Unfortunately, Garcia's arrangments, though harmless, are also quite bland. On top of that, Granz never was able to record a completely rested Armstrong and on the day of this session, Armstrong was recovering from the previous day's work: a performance by the All Stars and the recording of five tunes for the second collaboration with Ella.

Armstrong showed up at the studio with a tired lip but managed to turn in a darkly-hued, mellifuous solo on a remake of "When Your Lover Has Gone," not near as daring on his 1931 original, but a good example of his mature, later style. "We'll Be Together Again" was up next and Armstrong caresses the bittersweet tone of the lyrics (Armstrong admirer Frankie Laine was credited with co-writing the song). It's a good example of his range, too, as he reaches down to a low a C and up an eleventh to a D without any straining. Oddly, he doesn't deviate much from the written melody but he sings with warmth. The trumpet solo also doesn't stray from the written melody, but is quite lovely. He starts quite strong but sounds a tad weak going into the second eight bars, recovering with a bluesy Eb (echoed nicely by pianist Paul Smith). The bridge might be my favorite part as Armstrong answers the string section's playing of the melody with a perfect obbligato, with some nice, dark, low notes. He sounds like he's playing along with the radio (perhaps a Jackie Gleason record). Then comes a moment of great dignity: Armstrong emerges from the bridge in dangerous waters, his lip sounding like it wants to give out. He pauses, leaving some silence, and bounces back for a full F. Trumpet concludes the performance, once again answering the melody as played by the strings, before a subdued coda.

Overall, it's a charming performance and a great example of how hard Armstrong pushed himself in those later years, managing to create performances of great beauty even when not in 100% great shape. For a real example of that, check out the various takes of "Stormy Weather," the very next tune recorded that day. Again, Garcia wrote the arrangement to include Armstrong taking a full chorus trumpet solo but knowing he wasn't in peak form, the bridge was handed to Smith's piano. After one of the runthrough takes, you can hear Armstrong say, "That bridge--takes a whole lot of weight off me, man." Armstrong's later years sometimes get taken for granted but he never stopped giving 100%.

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