The good news: Louis Armstrong is back on the pop charts after a long absence. The bad news: He is no longer a solo act.
Combining a little overdubbing with a lot of chutzpah, Kenny G has resurrected the Armstrong hit "What a Wonderful World" and recorded it as a duet, adding his soprano saxophone to Satchmo's warm-hearted vocal. Say what you will about this form of musical gene-splicing, it's a brilliant career move for the artist-who-is-among-the-living here. After all, had it not been for this recording would we have ever heard Armstrong and G's name (if you can call G a name) mentioned in the same breath? Not bloody likely.
What this album says about the evolution (devolution?) of jazz and pop tastes in the 20th century -- in with Louie out with Kenny -- will no doubt inspire a thousand jokes and not a few tears, but there's no knocking the tunes, even if they are a little threadbare. Among the composers represented are Antonio Carlos Jobim ("Desafinado" and "Girl From Ipanema"), Duke Ellington ("In A Sentimental Mood"), Thelonious Monk (" 'Round Midnight") and Harold Arlen and Kip Yarburg ("Somewhere Over the Rainbow"). All are saluted by the soprano-tenor saxophonist in earnest but unmoving fashion, with the melodies alone accounting for nearly all of the album's charms.
In the liner notes, G refers to these extremely radio-friendly interpretations as "a labor of love." A lot of jazz fans will find listening to them a different kind of labor altogether.
Appearing Sunday at Nissan Pavilion with George Benson. To hear a free Sound Bite from Kenny G, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8123. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)