This box set is pretty near perfect. It is 4CDs and 99 tracks and is from Proper Records (a UK-based company...how is it that the Brits know more about American music than Americans do?). Which means that it includes a 52-page booklet and extensive liner notes along with the great music, for a very low price. Whatever artist you get from Proper, if you are a fan of the artist you will more likely than not be completely satisfied with your purchase.
The first CD (exept for the last track, the excellent insturmental "Chicago Breakdown") is material from when Armstrong was a mere sessionman, before he became leader of the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. The first five are by Joe "King" Oliver and in my opinion are some of the best songs on CD1. Oliver was Louis' idol and mentor, a fellow New Orleanian and is responsible for Louis getting his big break. They are all insturmentals too. But very catchy and memorable ones. Unfortunately for any audiophiles, most of these songs sound a bit like a 78 record is being played. But the sound is far from bad. Then Louis became a cornet player for Fletcher Henderson's and Clarence Williams' bands, as the next few songs attest. These are pretty good, but not up to King Oliver's songs. Then there's a song by Ma Rainey, "Countin' The Blues". It's a good song, but unfortunately suffers from bad production because Ma was a Paramount Records artist, and the company was notorious for using cheap recording materials and inferior production techniques. As a result, you have to turn down the volume to avoid distortion. Too bad. Then there's his playing with the great Bessie Smith, which speaks for itself. Then he also backs up Eva Taylor, Trixie Smith, Erskine Tate, Jimmy Bertrand, Johnny Dodds (who later became a member of Louis' Hot Fives and Sevens, but here he leads a short-lived band), and Lil's Hot Shots (another short-lived band led by his then-wife Lillian Hardin Armstrong). The songs by everyone but Taylor and Smith are pretty good. The songs by Taylor and Smith are of inferior technical quality as well (were they Paramount artists? Actually, I usually like Trixie Smith but I have never liked "Railroad Blues"). In the included booklet, writer and music expert Joop Visser calls Taylor's version of "Cake Walkin' Babies From Home" (on this CD) "the most exciting version" of this song, then in the next paragraph mentions Bessie Smith's songs. NO WAY! Comparing Taylor's version of the song to Bessie's is like comparing a Hyundai to a Ferrari.
But then, for all his research and knowledge of jazz and blues music for Proper's releases, Joop Visser is very opinionated, especially here, and you may or may not agree with him (I'm assuming Joop is a man's name?). For instance, his calling Lil Armstrong a poor pianist is unfair. No, she was no virtuoso, but she played better than I ever could, or many other people in this world ever will. She also greatly helped guide her husband in his career, wrote several great songs for him (as evidenced here), and even remained close friends with him after they divorced. Visser also gives opinions about other players in Louis's band regarding musical ability. I personally find nothing wrong with them. They are in my opinion accomplished musicians, but Visser almost makes some of them out to be as unskilled as most punks are! So you have to read the enclosed booklet with a very open mind and acknowledge that it's only his opinion.
The second CD is from Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives. The songs by everyone but May Alix are really great vaudeville-style blusey Dixieland jazz and most of them are insturmentals. They are very catchy and memorable, but unfortunately for adudiophiles there is a very faint thumping noise on some of them (that even I know are not part of the song). It's a tad bit annoying, but it's not as noticable on these CDs as they are on other releases of these songs. Also, on "He Likes It Slow" (with Susie and Butterbeans on vocals), there is a faint scraping sound in the background. Please keep in mind that this was the 1920's and technology and recording techniques were nowhere near as advanced as they are now. By the way, this is a very racy song, especially for the time! There are two songs by May Alix, "Big Butter and Egg Man" and "Sunset Cafe Stomp". This woman posessed one of the worst voices I have ever heard in my life! What is this novelty artist doing here? She is in my opinion to jazz what Florence Foster Jenkins was to opera, what Mrs. Miller was to 60's pop, or what William Hung is to modern pop. That is how awful I think May Alix was. I mean, yes, Louis and Lil (who sings on two songs here) were not great singers technically. But at least they weren't painful to listen to like May! Her songs are definitely the worst two songs on this whole box set!
The third CD has all the music from Louis Armstrong's Hot Sevens (with the addition of two more members they had to change the name of the band). With less insturmentals than before. As I've said before, Louis was not a technically good singer. But I like his singing anyway. Great songs! The same with CD 4. Okay, his version of St. Louis Blues will never match Bessie Smith's, but it's still pretty listenable.
If you are a fan of Louis Armstrong or early jazz, you need to buy this box set! And it's cheap, even if you buy it new! You won't regret it!