Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Boy Named Charlie Brown – Fantasy Records/ Concord Music

by | May 15, 2014 | Jazz CD Reviews

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Boy Named Charlie Brown – Fantasy Records/Concord Music FAN-35318-02 [5/13/14], 44:39 *****:

(Vince Guaraldi – piano; Monty Budwig – bass; Colin Bailey – drums)

Vinve Guaraldi grew up in the North Beach section of San Francisco, a beacon of jazz for the West Coast. An innovative pianist, composer and arranger, he first came to prominence with Cal Tjader in the early fifties. Tunes like “Chopsticks Mambo” and “Vibra-Tharpe” created a buzz in the jazz community. Eventually he began a solo career with Fantasy Records. In 1962, he recorded music based on the film Black Orpheus. Titled Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus, the album seemed headed for oblivion, as the single “Samba De Orpheus” (hoping to capitalize on the bossa nova trend) stalled on the charts. But the “B” side got some airplay and things changed significantly. “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” became a hit and won a Grammy.

After hearing this “B” side, Lee Mendelson, (the producer for the Peanuts television specials) was impressed and contacted Guaraldi through critic Ralph J. Gleason. After an impromptu “phone audition” (at which “Linus And Lucy” was played), this renowned collaboration was born. With broad, commercial appeal, The Peanuts TV specials became a staple of musical and television culture. While the decade of jazzy animation made Guaraldi’s career, his passing in 1976 cut short a brilliant career.

In 1964 a rare occurrence took place. Fantasy Records released a soundtrack to a television documentary that never aired. Jazz Impressions Of A Boy Named Charlie Brown featured original Guaraldi compositions performed in a piano trio. Although A Charlie Brown Christmas became a landmark recording, the previous release was a seminal jazz album. Now Concord Music has re-released the original record (now under the title A Boy Named Charlie Brown) with two bonus tracks. The re-mastered tracks sound excellent. Opening the album is a medium-paced honky-tonk rag (popularized in the 1920s by players like Duke Ellington). Guaraldi’s sense of movement and timing is flawless. His trio is in step and this is as good as jazz gets under two-and-a-half minutes. Reflecting the Brazilian influence of the day, “Pebble Beach” (which was intended for an Arnold Palmer segment in the documentary) exudes a glowing resonance and uncanny tempo. “Happiness Is” begins with a meditative and delicate introduction. Guaraldi presents a command of technique and rhythm shifts. Of course, “Schroeder” starts out with a nod to Beethoven, but the transition to Americana ragtime waltz is compelling. And this all takes place in less than two minutes.

For those who are fond of the Charlie Brown TV specials, “Charlie Brown Theme” establishes the familiar toe-tapping, festive quality. Guaraldi punctuates the upbeat vibe with funky jazz riffs. The venerable “Linus And Lucy” sounds as fresh and potent as it did fifty years ago. A slight key shift in the chorus and two brisk transitions (especially the second one) are stellar in their execution. For purer jazz enthusiasts, “Blue Charlie Brown” (a rare extended cut) is a vampy, rhythmic jaunt with exemplary right hand notation. “Freda (With The Naturally Curly Hair)” has a bolder approach to leisure swing. But the cascading chords and Monty Budwig’s walking bass line keep things festive. Guaraldi’s verse openings (with a lower register bass note) are emphatic. Colin Bailey’s drums are understated, but maintain the cohesion.

There is a terrific bonus track of “Fly Me To The Moon”. Forever associated with Frank Sinatra’s fifties’ “cool “, Guaraldi switches gears on the first verse. He creates a ruminating chord variation with ethereal flourishes that morph into the familiar swing mode at the 1:50 mark. And the trio responds with the hottest licks on the album. At nine minutes, the players are capable of exerting their flexibility. Budwig contributes a lithe solo with Guaraldi and Bailey countering in stride. There is now definitive, historical testimony of the music that surrounded the animation in graceful elegance.

TrackList: Oh, Good Grief; Pebble Beach; Happiness Is; Schroeder; Charlie Brown Theme; Linus And Lucy; Blue Charlie Brown; Baseball Theme; Freda (With The Naturally Curly Hair) Bonus Tracks: Fly Me To The Moon; Baseball Theme (Alternate Take)

—Robbie Gerson


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