MUSiC: CD Review – It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Vince Guaraldi, 1966/2022

I’ve been digging my other Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown recordings so much I wanted more. A bit of rooting about online revealed this as a potential next acquisition. So I pulled the trigger!

It’s an odd album compared to the other two CB Guaraldi albums (A Boy Named CB, and A CB Christmas), in that they are both quite conventional musical albums. This, on the other hand, is a collection of shorter ‘musical cues’.

So rather than an album of longer recorded pieces derived from the shorter cues used on the TV animations, these are those short musical cues. And not only that, there are many repeated iterations of the same or very similar short musical themes.

This means this disc largely comprises many renderings of a rather limited number of compositions, plus a few more singular oddments. So, for example, take that old favourite, Linus and Lucy… there are seven, yes, seven versions here! Similarly, there are five Great Pumpkin Waltzes and five Graveyard Themes, and so on.

This makes listening to the entire CD in the way you would most normal albums a bit odd. I love the music contained herein. But I’m not sure how often I’d want to sit through such a repetitive program of music.

But let’s backtrack momentarily. How did this music come down the years to us in this form? Well, the love for Guaraldi’s Peanuts/Charlie Brown themed music endures, and a kind of ‘quest in to the archives’ brought to light what had long been assumed to be lost; master tapes of the Guaraldi sessions for this Halloween themed TV special.

And it’s clear from the liner notes that this has been a passion project for lovers of Guaraldi’s great jazzy extension of the whole Schulz Peanutsiverse, so to speak. So from the perspective of musical and artistic cultural archaeology this is pure gold. Five star fare!

And really it is musically, as well. Admittedly modern mastering does reveal some of the limitations of the source material, in terms of hi-fi or sonic clarity. For those in love with Guaraldi’s CB work, this is a great treasure trove. And I’d count myself in that demographic. But nonetheless, I’ll probably cherry pick my favourite tracks/takes, and make a more succinct less repetitive playlist, rather than frequently listening to the album entirely as it is.

For these 1966 dates Guaraldi was once again in trio with Monty Budwig (bass) and Colin Bailey (drums), who had recorded CB sessions with Vince before. But that core group was further augmented by guitarist John Gray, Emmanuel Klein (trumpet), and Ronald Lang (woodwinds). Also in the studio, in a new development, was a John Scott Trotter, credited with orchestration (waving a baton while the tape rolled, apparently!).

Back to the tunes: it’s interesting hearing the oh so familiar Linus & Lucy getting reworked, and with horns. And there are a few lovely themes or pieces unique to this special, such as the achingly gorgeous Great Pumpkin Waltz, and the spooky Graveyard Theme.

Then there are some slightly odder less oft repeated things, like Snoopy and the Leaf, Frieda, Fanfare/Breathless, and a little suite of solo piano ‘oldies’: It’s A Long Way to Tipperary/There’s a Long-Long Trail a-Winding/Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag/Roses of Picardy.

I’m pretty sure I read online that this stuff was released a while back in straight-off-the-soundtrack form, with sounds from the cartoon show included/intruding. Alas, I can’t recall where I read that? But mention was made that there was much grumbling about this, and a cleaned up version was in the works. I guess this must be that?

It’s an oddball CD, I guess, and probably likely to appeal most strongly to Guaraldi and/or Charlie Brown über-buffs. Whatever, as folk say these days, I’m glad I got it!

MEDiA: Gene Deitch, RIP

Gene, with sons Kim and Simon.
We’ve all been here, right?
What has come to be known more recently as ‘crate digging’.

Oh no! I just posted about cataloguing my CD collection on FB. I thought I’d illustrate that post with an image by Gene Deitch, whose character The Cat was an avid record collecting jazz buff.

Deitch did some amusingly prophetic cartoons.
Haha… love this!

In finding an apt image, I discovered that Gene passed, aged 95, in 2020. I have a nice book, Cat On A Hot Thin Groove, about his illustrations for Record Changer magazine.

I bought this book about him years ago.

He also created characters like Nudnik, as well as animating such famous cartoons as Tom and Jerry and Popeye, and doing all sorts of other artistic/illustrative work. I’ve peppered this post with a few images by him I either love for their visual artistry, or their comic wit, or, frequently, both.

I got the image at the top of this post from an excellent obit’ from the NY Times, which you can read in full here.

Deitch in his Prague home/studio, in later life.
I pinched this for an Xmas card one year.
Bold abstraction meets jazzy figuration.
His Record Changer covers alone would be a great legacy.

I’ve not watched Munro (1960) – see below – yet, but as soon as time allows, I’ll be doing so (tomorrow, perhaps?*) * aka later today!

I find Deitch’s art, by which I’m mainly referring to his Record Changer and jazz related cartoons, design and illustration work, really inspiring. His mainstream animation stuff I’m much less familiar with or aware of.

But, rather madly, I’ve discovered that Deitch was also involved with one of the earliest screen adaptations of Tolkien’s writings. I love Tolkien, and I was really quite surprised to find yet another point of connection here with Gene Deitch!

As with Munro, I’ve yet to watch this Hobbit based animation. I glanced at a minute or so of it, whilst drafting this post. It seems quite a loose adaptation! But I look forward to watching it in full.

MEDiA: La Planète Sauvage, 1973

Wow! This is a pretty amazing animated film. The quality of animation is terrific. Especially for its (pre CGI) era. Whilst the visual aesthetic is not immediately to my own tastes, it’s so singular and powerful it kind of sucks one in. Well, me at least, at any rate.

I discovered the existence of this movie thanks to the inclusion of some music from it on the vinyl compilation Mindbending Nuggets, which a friend had bought. This latter is a great collection of slightly obscure music, with a good selection of odd and unusual but groovily funky tracks (released in ‘97).

The basic premise of the film (itself based on a book*) is that humans, called Oms, are kept as pets by Draags, big blue red-eyed and web-eared humanoid characters. These Draags spend most their time meditating and being a bit weird.

They live on a planet, Ygam, whose look reminds one of both surrealism generally, and in particular the paintings of scientist (and surrealist painter) Desmond Morris. All organic blobbiness, but with an appropriately ‘sauvage’ spikiness.

Tiva plays with Terr.

Apparently the movie was marketed as a stoner experience, best watched in an altered state. And I can see that that might well be a good way to see it. Although personally those days are, for the most part, very much behind me now.

The music, by Alain Goraguer is terrific. It’s often compared to Atom Heart Mother era Floyd. Although, to my mind/ears, it’s far more complex, focussed and funky than the Brit-proggers.

Funky keys, wah-guitar, and lush strings and vocals create the perfect aural companion to the visuals. It’s one of those rare instances where the music stands in its own right, and is as strong as the film it accompanies.

Mmm… sexy jazz!

Above, a bit more of Goraguer’s work. I’ll prob do a post on him at some point. But for this one, let’s get back to the animated film. Which is, frankly, visually stunning.

* Based on this book:

All told, there’s something a bit odd, and slightly limp or disappointing, in the ideas or the narrative. The visual imagination and invention is terrific, but the conceptual side occasionally feels a little lame.

There’s a definite hangover of both WWII and the hippy era. The ‘de-Om’ing’, or culling of humans, clearly resembles the Nazi ‘final solution’. Most obviously so when gas releasing pellets – Zyklon B springs to mind – are used to kill Oms en masse. But in the end, and rather quickly, it’s determined that peaceful co-existence is the only way forward. And, rather abruptly (and dissatisfyingly), boom, the film ends.

It almost feels like they just ran out of either budget or ideas! Maybe not? Who knows. Either way, it’s a bit of a damp squib way to end.

Nevertheless, the sheer visual richness, and the soundtrack, make this essential viewing, in my opinion.