Thursday, February 11, 2010

George Winston "Love Will Come: The Music of Vince Guaraldi Volume 2"

Pianist George Winston has long professed deep and abiding admiration for composer and pianist Vince Guaraldi (1928-76), best remembered today for his scores to sixteen Peanuts animated television features made between 1965 and 1976. Indeed, George Winston is now pretty much considered the foremost Vince Guaraldi authority, a designation which has done much to enhance his jazz credibility – something which this self-described folk pianist (who also claims The Doors as an influence and recorded a solo piano tribute to the rock group in 2002) probably doesn’t care one jot for. Winston surely has a seminal understanding of Guaraldi that goes deeper than the initial appeal of such great work as “Cast Your Fate To The Wind,” “Linus and Lucy” and “Skating,” which are among Guaraldi’s best and best-known tunes.

The evidence of Guaraldi’s influence has long been in Winston’s work, particularly in the remarkably timeless and essential December (Windham Hill, 1982) and in his own Peanuts score for 1988’s This is America, Charlie Brown – The Birth of the Constitution. But Winston put his money where is mouth is with Linus & Lucy – The Music of Vince Guaraldi (Dancing Cat, 1996), which stands as one of the first tributes to the magical music of Vince Guaraldi. To be fair, there have been a few musical Peanuts tributes, most notably from David Benoit, another Guaraldi acolyte, but Winston’s tribute puts the composer and his work out in front and goes outside of the obligatory Peanuts music, which surely dominates the small compositional galaxy of Vince Guaraldi.

Back for round two with Love Will Come: The Music of Vince Guaraldi Volume 2, George Winston comes up with a surprising 16 additional Guaraldi tunes to consider and expound upon. Here, he digs deep into Guaraldi’s lesser known work, particularly some of the best and instantly recognizable Peanuts music from the specials Guaraldi scored in the 70s. As the disc’s title suggests, it’s overwhelming in its romanticism for the music, the images the music often accompanies, the composer and, even for Guaraldi’s hometown of San Francisco, lovingly pictured on the disc’s front cover.

George Winston provides the music with a gravity Vince Guaraldi’s work certainly deserves and has never really received. It is most apparent on the disc’s highlights. First and foremost, there is the great “Nobody Else.” The original, which balances a moody melancholy with a Latin lilt and was first heard on the 1966 album Vince Guaraldi & Bola Sete Live at El Matador, has a very Peanuts-like feel to it and could as easily have been titled “Charlie Brown” for all the “born loser” moods it conjures. Here, Winston slows it down dramatically, revealing it to be a rather achingly beautiful and remarkably poetic love song. It is surely Winston's finest moment.

Elsewhere, Winston splendidly reconvenes “It Was A Short Summer, Charlie Brown,” the New Orleans swagger of “Air Music” and the awkwardly paced but curiously appealing bayou consideration of “You’re Elected, Charlie Brown.” Perhaps Winston’s wittiest moment of the disc comes on the Professor Longhorn-like take on the familiar “Little Birdie,” which suggests anything but “little” here.

Winston also makes a strong and worthy case here for Vince Guaraldi’s expressive and impressionistic balladry, overshadowed to a large degree at the time by Bill Evans (and the fact that Guaraldi disappeared from records in the late sixties), with lovely performances of “Time For Love” (aka “There’s No Time For Love, Charlie Brown”), “Room At The Bottom” (aka “Like A Mighty Rose”), “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown,” “Rain, Rain Go Away” and the disc’s title track, which is extended with the interesting “Slow Dance,” a Winston original in the same vein.

While it is truly a labor of love – and a document of some considerable erudition (the disc is particularly worthwhile for the extraordinarily detailed liner notes providing more Guaraldi discographical information and corrections than has been available elsewhere) - Love Will Come is initially difficult to reconcile with Vince Guaraldi’s originals.

One might reasonably expect a more lively representation of the composer’s work, which as clever and complicated as much of his music may be in construction, reveal a childlike playfulness as well as a hopefulness and happiness under his direction. In Winston’s hands, Guaraldi’s music is more ruminative and wistful than light and airy. While Winston’s touch is also a little heavier, sometimes clunkier and distinctly more chordal than Guaraldi’s lightening lilt, the solo pianist is nevertheless respectful, even loving, of Guaraldi’s often engaging compositions without bowing to reverential reproduction.

But, in all fairness, this is George Winston interpreting Vince Guaraldi not replicating Vince Guaraldi and love will come for Love Will Come when it’s heard in just that way.

Note: Barnes & Noble is currently offering an "exclusive" version of Love Will Come that adds the bonus track "Charlie Brown's Baseball Theme" to the disc's 16-song lineup.

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