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Vince Guaraldi Trio – Peanut’s Greatest Hits – Fantasy/ Concord Music Group

Vince Guaraldi Trio – Peanut’s Greatest Hits – Fantasy FAN 37498-02/ Concord Music Group (2015), 39:00 ****1/2:

(Vince Guaraldi – piano, electric piano, vocals; Monty Budwig – bass; Colin Bailey – drums; Tom Harrell – trumpet; Chuck Bennett – trombone; Seward McCain – bass; Mike Clark – drums; Ronald Lang – woodwinds; Manny Klein – trumpet; John Gray – guitar; Fred Marshall – bass; Jerry Granelli – drums)

In the 1950s Vince Guaraldi had become prominent on the San Francisco jazz scene. He had played with the  Cal Tjader Trio and formed his own group by the end of the decade. Then his “B” side hit “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” earned a Grammy. Jazz music had become an integral part of movies like Black Orpheus and Anatomy Of A Murder. But in the mid-960s Vince Guaraldi became an iconic part of American culture as the composer for the Peanuts television programs. His music enjoyed mass appeal and became a beloved tradition. He scored seventeen TV specials and recorded various albums.

Finally there is a definitive collection of Peanuts material by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Concord Music Group has released Peanuts Greatest Hits. The performances were originally recorded for A Boy Named Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Peanuts Portrait, and Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits. These twelve cuts are a nostalgic and vibrant musical account of this cultural phenomenon. The ebullient “Linus And Lucy” opens the CD. With its percussive, melodic verse, the trio cooks. At the 1:09 mark there is a swing transition that exemplifies Guaraldi’s creative approach. With cool finger-snapping tempo, “Charlie Brown Theme”s” simple groove is enlivened by solos enveloped in bluesy jazz eloquence. The first waltz time is featured on “Baseball Theme”. It swings with a graceful ease and builds with crescendos. All of these songs have compact arrangements that manage to bridge popular music with jazz articulation.

Not lost in this concept is the skill of Guaraldi. He weaves through the underlying melody on “Oh, Good Grief” with nimbleness and rhythmic dexterity. It is impossible to listen and not visualize scenes from the Peanuts TV specials. But this music stands on its own merits as jazz expression. “Happiness” is full of tenderness and moves with gentle fluency. A rare Guaraldi vocal can be found on “Little Birdie” (the liner notes emphasize this is a longtime favorite of George Winston). Expanded instrumentation (horns) and electric piano highlight this vampy song. Similar acoustics give a lot of texture to “Great Pumpkin Waltz”. A guitar solo (John Gray) and flute runs (Ronald Lang) are nice touches. Guaraldi’s impeccable timing energizes “Thanksgiving Theme”.

The anthology concludes with four tracks from A Charlie Brown Christmas. “Christmas Is Coming”   infuses festive cadences with cool, jazzy punctuation.  Guaraldi’s sense of shimmering accents and brisk notation make “Skating” unforgettable. There are two versions of the lyrical glowing “Christmas Time Is Here”. This remains one of Guaraldi’s finest compositions. It is nuanced with descending chords and stellar chord shifts.

Whether you are a fan of jazz piano or just nostalgic, Peanuts Greatest Hits is a winner!

TrackList: Linus And Lucy; Charlie Brown Theme; Baseball Theme; Oh, Good Grief; Happiness Is; Little Birdie; Great Pumpkin Waltz; Thanksgiving Theme; Christmas Is Coming; Christmas Time Is Here; Skating; Christmas Time Is Here

—Robbie Gerson

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