Here's to You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years
A beautiful, highly personal tribute to an enduring classic, David Benoit's Here's to You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years (GRP 314 543 637-2; 41:55) also plays as a poignant remembrance of Charles "Sparky" Schultz, who died earlier this year, shortly after announcing the retirement of the Peanuts gang. Benoit is at his emotive best here, smartly arranging these familiar classics from decades of Charlie Brown specials in intimate trio settings, taking a cue from the tunes' master composer, Vince Guaraldi. For "Linus & Lucy" (which Benoit himself covered with a modern twist on 1989's Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown), Benoit's trio even engages Guaraldi's original recording in a unique "duet." The core group of the freewheeling, jazzy Benoit, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Peter Erskine sparkles on an elegant read of "Charlie Brown Theme," and is nicely offset by Marc Antoine's brisk, lush guitar strum on "Pebble Beach," and the driving, worldly "Red Baron." Schultz's characters' often bittersweet journeys are characterized by Chris Botti's pretty-but-sad muted-trumpet voice on "Linus Tells Charlie," and the gang's quirky energy is captured by Michael Brecker's muscular improvisational sax flights on "Freda." Bringing this wonderful collection to an appropriate close is "Happiness," from the stage play You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, sung beautifully, with wistful joy by Al Jarreau. As complex, organic and familiar as jazz itself, the Peanuts gang will live on through this vibrant music as well as Schultz's drawings. Somewhere, Sparky is sure to be smiling.