I was a Vince Guaraldi fan before I knew who he was. Maybe you were too. Guaraldi is well known as the musical mind behind A Charlie Brown Christmas as well as other animated Peanuts cartoons and holiday specials. So listening to Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus brings an instant connection to special music, something thats deep and resonating (inside me at least). Like Bill Evans' playing, Vince Guaraldis piano work is instantly recognizable. Theres melody and pacing in seemingly equal parts along with a serious attempt at creating a mood -- usually whimsical, but never overly so. Guaraldi's influence on George Winston is unmistakable. Winston has even recorded a solo collection of Guaraldi's compositions.
Of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas is not the movie Black Orpheus, for which half of this music was written, but Guaraldi's playing serves both very well. The first four tunes, three by Jobim/Bonfá and one that's public domain, are actually from Black Orpheus, a retelling of the Orpheus tale set against the backdrop of Mardi Gras in Rio de Janeiro. The film was the Grand Prize Winner at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, and the Brazilian-flavored music is woven into its fabric. The final four tunes, including two Guaraldi originals and "Moon River," are not from the movie and accordingly have more of a North American feel -- but are no less involving.
The playing here is tight, the arrangements being on display as much as the playing itself. "Samba de Orfeo," the opening number, draws attention to itself, beginning as it does with only drums and bass in the left and right channels respectively. By the time Guaraldi's sunny tones emerge, we anticipate and welcome them all the more. On "O Nosso Amor" and "Generique," Guaraldi and crew transition from one tune into the next deftly, underscoring the compositional structure of these songs.
Some really good news for audiophiles is that the sound of this CD is simply terrific -- involving and sweet, yet never syrupy or veiled. Guaraldis piano is full and resonant, and his light touch shines through in an elemental way. The hit "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," in particular, swings hard and begs to be turned up, a rarity for jazz. I would be hard-pressed to identify this disc as digital, and you may be too.
Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus sits at the very top of the remaster pile -- for its performances as well as its sound. It is Guaraldi's high-water mark, this from a big fan of his Peanuts music, and it deserves heavy time in your CD player.
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