Tuesday, October 9, 2012

'Christmas' comes early this year

Fantasy's newly remastered edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas arrives in stores today, just in time to take advantage of the holiday shopping season. (Halloween? Thanksgiving? What are they?)

Quoting from Concord's press release:

The 2012 Remastered & Expanded Edition CD will feature the original 1965 recording, newly remastered with 24-bit technology from the original analog stereo master tapes. It also contains three holiday bonus tracks that did not appear on the original LP: “Greensleeves,” “Thanksgiving Theme” and “Great Pumpkin Waltz.” The digi package includes a 20-page booklet featuring memorable Peanuts character images from the beloved A Charlie Brown Christmas television special.

I've seen the booklet, and Rachel Gutek's package design is, indeed, fabulous. I was pleased, once again, to be asked for a new set of liner notes, and my friends at Concord were kind enough to use the entire essay, even though it ran longer than originally requested ... which probably is why the booklet is 20 pages, and not 12 or 16. (Hey, I've never been known for brevity.)

As I observe, in part, in those liner notes:

Analog-to-digital conversion has gotten a lot better since this album debuted on CD in 1988, as a side-by-side listening comparison will reveal. The ubiquitous background hum, so notorious due to the Spartan conditions of Fantasy's recording studio, is less intrusive; this is particularly evident when the young members of San Rafael's St. Paul's Church Choir — standing in for all of Charlie Brown's friends — croon the melody line and then sing "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." The album's overall dynamics are more crisp, the individual elements and instruments more "alive," better conveying a sense that we're in the same room as the musicians.

You'll notice the most vibrant difference, throughout, on the contributions by bassists Monty Budwig and Fred Marshall. Guaraldi's piano — at once more detailed and warmer than the somewhat brittle sounding original CD reissue — sits better in the mix. This draws greater attention to the equally superlative work by the sidemen; you'll hear marvelous bass riffs that have been all but buried until now.

And here's a bonus: For those who love the sound and look of old-style LPs, Fantasy also will issue a new pressing of this album on green vinyl. This is an affectionate nod to Fantasy's early days, when owners Max and Soul Weiss — having named their company after the popular science-fiction pulp magazine — would produce records in unusual colors: green, red and blue translucent vinyl. The initial pressings of Guaraldi's early Fantasy LPs followed this pattern: usually red vinyl for the monaural version, and blue vinyl for stereo. I don't believe Fantasy ever granted Guaraldi a green LP, back in the day, so Concord deserves credit both for reviving this tradition, and giving it a holiday vibe.

Be advised, however: LP lacquer cutting from an analog master (LP) and digital remastering (CD) are two different things. The contents of this new green vinyl LP do not, as a result, reflect the newly remastered CD discussed above. This LP has been pressed from George Horn's 1988 master (which does include the extra version of "Greensleeves").

No doubt you've purchased this album at least once before, and perhaps two or three times. But really, it isn't possible to have too many copies ... particularly when this new one sounds so grand.


As a reminder to Northern California Guaraldi fans, I'll be joining pianist and recording star David Benoit at Santa Rosa's Charles M. Schulz Museum at 4 p.m. Saturday, November 3. David and I will present a musical and descriptive journey through Guaraldi's life and career, stopping at numerous tuneful highlights along the way. This event will be included with the price of museum admission, and it will be followed by a light reception. Check out the museum's web calendar for additional details.


Anonymous said...

Wish they would use the original 1960's Fantasy artwork and liner notes along with your essay.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean that “Thanksgiving Theme” and “Great Pumpkin Waltz” have also been 24-bit remastered?

Any chance at subsequent rereleases of other Holiday special soundtracks?

Derrick Bang said...

"Thanksgiving Theme" and "Great Pumpkin Waltz" were sourced from poorer monaural masters; they sound better here — thanks to Tarantino's efforts — than on Charlie Brown's Holiday Hits, but they're a far cry from the 12 tracks belonging to A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Sadly, still no chance of full album releases of Guaraldi's other holiday scores. If Fantasy has those in the vaults, they're not saying...

Anonymous said...


Does that mean there is the potential for more remasterings of existing Fantasy releases, like Jazz Impressions Of A Boy Named Charlie Brown?

Derrick Bang said...

One can always hope...

Duggadugdug said...

This new release sent me back to consult your very helpful essay on the various permutations of this seminal album: http://www.fivecentsplease.org/dpb/cbxmas.html

I'm placing my order now, and will be queuing up the prior releases for careful comparison on my studio monitor headphones... :-)

Duggadugdug said...

Okay, this long weekend (extended by Hurricane Sandy) gave me some time to savor, compare, and develop some reactions. First of all, I'm grateful to have these various releases and options out there, particularly given the alternate takes they've (sometimes inadvertently) made available for us Guaraldi fans.

Second, while the original Fantasy release (which the 2012 release re-presents) will always have a certain nostalgic edge, I have to say that, overall, the 2006 remixed and remastered version is the best, in terms of sound quality. It is a significantly more spacious and polished mix, with more clarity and presence for each of the individual instruments. This is probably due to its being *remixed* from the original 3-track masters, whereas the 2012 release is remastered from the original, stereo mixdown of those masters. The added separation and hint of added reverb give it a fuller, more pleasing sound, as though it were a more modern recording.

Of course, to my ears, there are track-specific exceptions: The 1965/1986/2012 version of "Christmas is Coming" is a faster performance, superior to the one used in the "uncorrected" 2006 CD release. Also, I'm not sure that the greater sonic clarity in the 2006 "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" is a good thing: There is some extraneous background noise that is even more obtrusive than in the original.

But overall, I'm going to voice a bit of Guaraldi heterodoxy, and express a preference for the "controversial" 2006 release, along with gratitude for all of the different versions that are available.

Anonymous said...

Hello all!

I recently e-mailed Derrick about this & he suggested that I might want to post my question here - and that hopefully, some of you will chime in.

As strange as it may seem to many, I only own 2(!) versions of this album - both on CD: the original 11-track 1986 release (without "Greensleeves") and now, the 2012 version. Unfortunately, I never realized that the 1988 re-release on CD offered a bit of a sonic upgrade to the 1986 version by way of an increase in the overall volume level (without using digital compression) - not to mention the addition of the aforementioned "Greensleeves". Sadly, the '88 version appears to be out of print now, so I was really happy to hear that this album was being re-mastered & re-released this year. The great reviews I read made this purchase a "no-brainer" for me.

My reason for posting here today is because I noticed an anomaly in the new 2012 CD version that has me puzzled - specifically related to the opening track, "O Tannenbaum". On the 1986 CD, during the first 40 seconds of the song, Guaraldi's piano is dead center in the mix - exactly where it is on the other songs on this album (excepting the vocal tracks). On the new 2012 edition, his piano is over on the left side - but only until the trio comes in! Then it suddenly jumps to the center of the mix. It really sounds quite awkward (& "wrong") to me when his piano "shifts" like this! It's not natural for a recording of this nature - and not what I remember.

As I said, I don't own the much-praised 1988 CD re-release - or the original Fantasy vinyl LP - to see how Guaraldi's piano appears in the mix of that song on those. I was wondering two things:
1) Did anyone else here purchase the 2012 CD - and if you did, did you notice what I heard with "O Tannenbaum"?

2) Does anyone have a copy of the original Fantasy LP who could check this song out & tell me where Vince's piano is mixed in the intro of the song?

If this anomaly in the mix proves to be just that - and not the way the original album was mixed, then I would have to ask if there is anyone at Fantasy or Concord Music Group who we could ask about it.

I know that to some, my question might seem to be a trifling thing - but this recording is a "classic" in every sense of the word! With the recent Library Of Congress recognition, I'm worried that Fantasy may have made a mistake with this track.

By the way, I also noticed a difference in "Fur Elise" as well - with Vince's piano way over on the right side of the mix. My 1986 CD has him just right of center. But that may simply be a case of a wide stereo mix that had been "narrowed" & is now appearing as it was originally presented. I thought I would mention it though.

Any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated!


duggadugdug said...

Hey, Dexter: The "O Tannenbaum" on my copy of the 1988 CD sounds like your description of the 1986 mix -- dead center for the first 40 seconds. Good ear: The 2012 remaster mix does indeed differ in the stereo placement of the piano during that segment. Unfortunately I don't have an original vinyl copy to compare it to.

If you love this album as much as I do, let me again put in a plug for the 2006 remix, whose sonic quality significantly surpasses the 2012 remaster (which is not a remix from the original performance tapes). The opening to "O Tannenbaum" is one of the clearest examples of how much clearer the 2006 version is. Except for my preference for the original performance of "Christmas Is Coming" used on the 1966/1986/1988/2012 versions, the 2006 disc is my favorite rendering of the album, as a whole.

"Fur Elise" is also a strange animal and, to my ears, the 2012 remaster has the *worst* sound quality, as they've ramped up the loudness in the left channel (thereby increasing the obtrusive tape hiss) and created a "duophonic" image by putting the piano mainly in the right channel, and slapping some reverb in the left. From listening to my 3 CD versions -- 1988, 2006, and 2012 -- it is clear to me that the piano was originally recorded with one microphone, i.e., in mono. You are correct that it is "placed" a bit to the right in the stereo image, but it wasn't originally recorded with a stereo mic setup.