Vince Guaraldi – Peanuts Portraits/The Classic Character Themes – Craft Recordings CR 02695 (2010/2020) Opaque Red Vinyl Limited Edition/Vinyl Me Please, 34:30 ****1/2:
(Vince Guaraldi – piano, keyboards (A 1-6/B 1-3); George Winston – piano (B4, B5); Monty Budwig – bass; Colin Bailey – drums, Seward McClain – bass, Mike Clark – drums; Tom Harrell – trumpet; Chuck Bennett – trombone)
San Francisco pianist Vince Guaraldi began his career in jazz playing with Cal Tjader. He left the group to pursue a solo career. On his 1962 album, Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus, Guaraldi released “Samba De Orpheus” as a single with little success. However, the “B” side, “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” ended up winning the Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition. Things changed significantly when he was selected to compose a score for a documentary about Charles Schulz’s popular Peanuts newspaper characters. Songs like “Linus And Lucy”, “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Skating” have become entrenched in American television culture and known around the world. Overall, Guaraldi composed 14 of these television specials. Arguably, this may have been the most significant milestone in bringing jazz into the mainstream. Tragically, in 1976, his life was cut short at the age of 47. But his impact has sustained to this day.
Craft Recordings has released a limited edition vinyl of Guaraldi recordings from his Peanuts era. Culled from prior releases and unreleased material, Peanuts Portraits/The Classic Character Themes is 11 tracks of classic Guaraldi music (with 2 by guest artist George Winston). Side A opens with the most recognized title, “Linus And Lucy”. The bouncing chords and distinctive left hand are festive and catchy. Guaraldi’s innate sense of timing is flawless. There are two jaunty swing tempo breaks that underscore the jazz context. In a concise 2:00, “Sally’s Blues” operates in quartet mode (with drums, double bass and saxophone) with an evocative groove. A previously unreleased “Blue Charlie Brown (version #2)” strays from the formula as Guiraldi switches to electric piano. His bluesy hooks inject a finger-snapping groove, while a smooth guitar takes lead. Combining jazz and pop, “Peppermint Patty” exudes a whimsical light-hearted resonance. The electric piano suits “Charlie’s Blues (variation)”. The arrangement distills a melancholic, pulsating feel. Horns add a touch of flair and texture to “Joe Cool”.
Guaraldi returns to his traditional roots on”Freida (With The Naturally Curly Hair)”. Backed by bass and drums, the pianist displays impeccable timing and phrasing in his jazz articulation. At 6:08, this is the longest cut on the album. Guaraldi is able to stretch out on piano with nuanced, sophisticated runs. It is straight ahead jazz, with vamps, occasional chord flourishes and brilliant notation. It is the essence of trio jazz. “Schroeder” is simply a living historical document to creative gravitas. The listener can visualize the cartoon piano player and eternal friend to all hunched over, channeling his hero, Ludwig Von Beethoven. This solo piano number captures the trademark melodic elegance of the classical composer and channels it through Americana perspective. There is a rare Guaraldi vocal on “Little Birdie”. The final two songs are performed by George Winston. He recorded an entire album of Guaraldi “Peanuts” material in 1996. ( Note: Winston always includes various covers in his live performances). He shines on “The Masked Marvel” with a combination of precise harmonics and an unexpected dose of funky riffs. He captures the Guaraldi spirit with adroit technical skill. His performance of “Linus And Lucy” is engaging. Winston stays with the main vamp, but adds his own mid-song accents.
Craft Recordings has done an excellent job in assembling the material (previously released and unreleased) for Peanuts Portraits/The Classic Character Themes. The mastering is top-notch as is the packaging, including liner notes by Derrick Bang about everyone’s favorite Peanuts characters. This pressing (an eye-popping red) has no discernible surface noise, hisses or pops. There are also digital assets available. It’s not everyday that popular culture and jazz converge artistically…but it does here!
Linus And Lucy
Blue Charlie Brown (version #2)
Charlie’s Blues (variation)
Frieda (With The Naturally Curly Hair)/alternate
The Masked Marvel
Linus And Lucy
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