Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dr. Funk's first Golden Anniversary disc

Guaraldi fans have two new items to put on their wish lists ... assuming said fans haven't already picked 'em up.

On Tuesday, May 13, the Concord Music Group unveiled 50th anniversary editions of Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, in two states: a CD newly re-mastered by engineer Joe Tarantino; and a collector's-edition LP that reproduces the original 1964 "gatefold" packaging, along with all its contents.

The CD features the original album's nine tracks, along with the bonus track of "Fly Me to the Moon," added when the album went digital back in the 1980s. Additionally, we get one more bonus track, new to this release: an alternate take of "Baseball Theme." The 16-page booklet has a reversable cover, so you can view either a reproduction of the aforementioned gatefold LP cover -- when the album's full title was Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown -- or the later cover that most people recognize. Perhaps in a nod to historical accuracy, the latter CD cover now only identifies this as "The original sound track recording," and leaves off the second half of the phrase ("of the CBS television special") ... which makes sense, since the documentary for which this score was composed, never aired on TV at all.

The disc is rather drolly designed to resemble a baseball, complete with stitching; the booklet and cover/interior page are laden with artwork taken from the 12 Charles M. Schulz "collectible lithographs of Peanuts characters" included in the 1964 gatefold edition. (Indeed, the CD cover art is taken from one of those 12 lithographs, shown above.) The booklet includes the original LP notes by both director/producer Lee Mendelson and jazz historian Ralph Gleeson, along with a new 1,900-word essay by my own self.

The collectible LP reproduces the original 1964 gatefold edition as accurately as possible, with one major change: This anniversary edition is pressed onto orange vinyl, in a nod toward Fantasy's original gimmick of releasing its LPs on colored vinyl (usually red or blue). From the outside, the gatefold package looks just as it did 50 years ago, up to and including the list -- on the back -- of "Other Fantasy albums of interest": eight titles, complete with their original Fantasy mono and stereo catalog numbers.

(This list undoubtedly was responsible for one of the common errors that has plagued many careless Guaraldi discographies. At first blush, these eight LPs appear to belong to Guaraldi, but that isn't true; two of them are Bola Sete albums ... and I've frequently found one of those, Tour de Force, incorrectly assigned to Guaraldi. Tsk-tsk!)

I note only one difference, between the front and back cover art of this 50th anniversary gatefold and my 1964 original: The latter lists the Fantasy catalog numbers for both the mono and stereo versions at the upper left of the front cover, while the anniversary edition cites only the stereo release.

The LP itself divides the original nine songs between the two sides in the same sequence, reproducing the spelling error present back in 1964: The little girl with the "naturally curly hair" is Frieda, not Freda. But a new mistake has crept in, as well: "Freda [sic] (With the Naturally Curly Hair)" is Side B's final track, as always has been the case. But Side B has only four tracks, yet this anniversary disc identifies that tune as Track 5 ... having skipped the number 4. (Oopsie!)

The LP is made from a fresh (new) master derived from the original analog tapes (as opposed to the CD re-master). The LP has no bonus tracks.

Lee Mendelson and Ralph Gleason's essays occupy the interior gatefold panels. As before, the sidemen remain uncredited. And no, my new essay isn't part of this LP, which makes sense, since it obviously wasn't part of the 1964 package.

The 12 Schulz lithographs are almost identical in size and content, including the original 1964 copyright assigned to "United Features Syndicate Inc., N.Y.C." But there are slight changes, reflecting a half-century difference between graphic reproduction. The paper stock is different; the 1964 lithos are on slightly shiny paper, which reflect any light sources. The new lithos also are roughly an eighth of an inch shorter horizontally, which -- depending on the image -- results in some artwork being chopped off one side or the other. 

Some of the colors are slightly different, generally slightly darker, and most visibly with the blues; the new blues are more "true." In the iconic pose of Charlie Brown on the pitcher's mound, for example, the sky behind him now looks more accurate, whereas the sky color in the 1964 counterpart is more of an aquamarine blue. Schroeder's piano is a slightly darker orange in the new litho; the background purples (floor and wall) in that image also are a bit darker. Snoopy's brown baseball glove, in the new litho, has the faint moiré pattern cross-hatching that one gets when scanning a halftone-screen image. Sharp-eyed folks also will notice that the new images, in some cases, omit just a touch of the artwork from the originals. In one litho, shown above, Linus stands in the ball field, next to a tree; the top of the tree extends out of the image, and the original has a little bit more "crown" than the new version. 

Mind you, these are all very minor distinctions, reported here simply for the sake of comparison. Nobody will care, and in fact I prefer the new paper stock because it's doesn't glare.

All in all, they're impressive packages — LP and CD — and, given the effort that went into both, I'm now quite curious to see what Concord will do next year, to similarly honor the 50th anniversary of the score for A Charlie Brown Christmas.


Simón said...

Good post, Derrick. I got my copy of the CD in the mail yesterday and enjoyed it thoroughly. Thanks for your essay; it was illuminating.
For any of the audio nerds out there, analysis shows it has high dynamic range (11-13 on the DR meter) and though I haven't listened with headphones yet it seemed remarkably quiet in terms of noise floor. Most importantly, everything sounded natural and improved compared to the older CD that I listened to on Spotify. I was pleased to see that everything was done straight from the tapes and that Joe Tarantino does everything with a modern digital workflow and that he has been responsible for mastering on so many great jazz releases.

Doug said...

Thanks for this helpful and informative post, Derrick -- especially the close comparisons with the 50-year-old lithographs. (Though it may cost me 30 bucks, by further piquing my interest in the vinyl LP release!) I'm sad to hear that any poor LP-only purchasers will be missing out on your excellent, new essay, which -- after the remastered audio -- was my favorite part of the new CD package: It was chock-full of interesting facts, and a very nicely constructed piece of prose!

Derrick Bang said...

Goodness, kind sir; you've made me blush!
Thanks for the kind words; I thoroughly enjoyed writing this particular essay ... and, needless to say, the narrative makes a great story!