Welcome to first installment of 6moon's Blast from the Past!, a monthly column where I hope to bring to light new jazz, world and rock reissues currently hitting the retail racks. This debut column covers jazz masters, Brazilian blowouts, R&B queens, 50s exotica and even a classic rock warhog or two (not pressed rats). Future columns will cover eclectic music from Wire, Weather Report, Ronnie Hawkins, Eric Clapton, more jazz and more Brazilian (my particular fetish). As you will see, the good stuff is abundant; the weird column is overflowing in its sheer girth; and the idiotic and downright curious is enough to make you double over in fits of pain, joy and bewilderment - take your pick.

Prestige Packing
Prestige, now owned by the Concord group, has been on a tear of late in the RVG or Rudy Van Gelder remastered series. Named after the celebrated producer who recorded some of the most heralded jazz of the 1960s in his Englewood Cliffs studios, the RVG remasters find the grand old man revisiting and remastering hot Prestige catalog CDs as he originally envisioned them. Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane, John Coltrane's Lush Life, Modern Jazz Quartet's Django, Red Garland's Red Garland's Piano [all Prestige/New Jazz] and six more titles get the refurbished RVG treatment and new liner notes, but no new tracks. We are talking faithfulness to the original masters here.

Van Gelder writes in the liner notes: "I was the engineer on the recording sessions and I also made the masters for the original LP issues of these albums. Since the advent of CD, other people have been making the masters. [Now] I can present my versions of the music on CD using modern technology."

Well, these soul-exposing remasters prove that modern technology is only as good as the man at the controls. Entirely remastered in glorious mono (mostly), these CDs, to a disc, reveal the soul of the performances as never quite achieved on their original CD reissues. These mono RVGs portray studio ambience, front to back soundstaging and minute details to a degree I would not have thought possible. And as far as anal audiophile listening goes, the images presented in these mono mixes are just huge. Concord will be releasing the second batch of RVGs this summer and they are definitely worth saving up for.

Boys and Girls from Ipanema
Continuing its truly essential recovery and reintroduction of some of the finest Brazilian music to the US domestic market, Planet Rhythm and Universal Music Latino return with their newest Rio to Sao Paolo treats, Pure Brazil 2 The Boys from Ipanema, Vol. 1 and Pure Brazil 2 Bossa 4 Two [Universal/Planet Rhythm]. Subtitled "From Jobim to Cazuza" and "New Duets for Great Moments", respectively, these discs are more must haves for anyone enamored with or even remotely interested in the legacy of Brazil's dulcet vocals, rumbling rhythms and innovative sounds. Covering the early '60s to the present and every possible genre and locale, the Pure Brasil series has been a godsend to novices and collectors alike. Attractive packaging, careful remastering, artists both known and unknown and well researched credits only add to their cache. Planet Rhythm also recently released Rio Bahia Carnival and Samba Social Club: The Ladies Session.

The 'boys' in question on the first disc include Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Roberto Menescal, Dorival Caymmi, Dick Farney and Johnny Alf, all Rio-based crooners renowned for their bossa skills in the '60s. Bossa 4 Two is undoubtedly one of the best releases of this 20-plus series that I have heard. It opens with Jobim's "Corcovado" as performed by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, then breaks into less standard couplings like Gilberto Gil with Nara Leao, Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa, Sylvia Telles and Lucio Alves and Joao Nogueira and Alcione. Here are the bouncy sambas, driving baiaos and steaming bossa novas that are so hot you almost feel you are in Rio, lapping up the waves and street scenes. There is something so beautiful and intimate about this music recorded from '64 to'77 that this listener for one finds it irresistible. Brazilian music has the ability to transport like no other. All the elements of Brazilian melody and rhythm, recorded in glorious tube-enabled stereo no doubt, are present here and lush and intoxicating.
I See Dead People
David Byrne and Brian Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts [Nonesuch] was a cult hit back in the early '80s, its freaky blend of proto dance beats and hysterical deep-south spiritual seers, quack exorcists and radio preachers a revelation - even if you grew up in the deep south as I did. Here, in one handy LP, were found "Jezebel Spirits'", a "Mountain of Needles" and "Solo Guitar with Tin Foil" - spooky music that just keeps on giving.

Epic Crate Digging
Epic/Legacy is responsible for the clever packaging and repackaging -- some would call it exploitation -- of the Miles Davis catalog. But when you consider the excellent work they (and producer Bob Belden) have done in bringing to light the complete recordings of the trumpeter's massive output, you must cut them some slack. Sure, it appears they are milking their hefty catalog for all its worth but hey, thank God for that.

Epic/Legacy has gone compilation-crazy of late, with three releases deserving special mention: The Essential George Duke, The Essential George Benson and The Essential Herbie Hancock [all Epic/Legacy]. Twofers all, the Essentials include the artist's hits, track-by-track commentary in some cases, cuts culled across label divides and even some hilarious early photos (such as a teenage Benson hoisting his guitar in mid air in front of some chrome and glass "Playhouse").

The Essential Herbie Hancock includes all of his hits regardless of label affiliation, genre or era. Extensive liner notes by Bob Belden and full song credits add to the completist nature of the double CD. If are looking to buy one package that contains the essence of Hancock, this is the one.

The same thing can be said for the Duke collection, but his material is so erratic, running from funky fusion to unlistenable pop funk, that it is a hard set to recommend. "Brazilian Love Affair" is great, "Dukey Stick" (whether you listen to the original album track or the 'bonus' 12" single version) is not.

Perhaps the most enjoyable of all is the Benson set, which combines 1960's smokers like "Rock Candy" and "Clockwise" with early CTI tracks like "Body Talk" and "Take Five" to hip late '70s period Benson-like "Hip Skip" (with Tony Williams) and even the oft-maligned pop hit "Breezin'". One of the most influential and still widely regarded of all jazz guitarists, George Benson never sounded better than on The Essential and a track by track commentary give you all the inside dope.
Jazz for What Ails Ya
New York's High Note label holds all the cards to the Muse back catalog and as such, has bragging rights to all their '70s and '80s jazz. Much of that material has been remastered at High Note and delivered as a series of sexy CD and SACD remasters, some good, some trite, some commercially motivated and produced to make money - Heaven forbid! Jazz for the Wee Small Hours conjures the perfect late night mood with such golden-toned singers as Etta Jones, Gloria Lynne, Dakota Staton, Della Griffin, Freddy Cole and Carol Sloane. This is blue feeling, deeply swinging nightclub jazz, the sort you might see and hear in a film by Robert De Niro (The Score) or Clint Eastwood (Play Misty For Me) where the star actor owns a jazz club or, for fun while battling inner demons, plays piano at 2am in the morning.
Blue and lowdown at Motown
In 1971, Diana Ross recorded the soundtrack to the film in which she also starred, Lady Sings the Blues, a dramatization of the life of Billie Holiday. Unbeknownst to many at the time, Ross entered the studio after wrapping the film to record even more songs in Holiday's style. Some of those songs were included in The Lady Sings the Blues soundtrack but a handful were lost. Until now. Originally titled Blue, the album overlapped tracks found on the soundtrack but other songs were new to that session. Blue features alternate versions of the soundtrack material, as well as songs that showed up on 1973's Touch Me in the Morning and 76's Diana Ross. Blue's never-before released tracks include "Easy Living", "Solitude", "He's Funny That Way" and "T'Ain't Nobody's Business if I Do". For some, Diana Ross singing jazz may be more than an acquired taste but her delivery here is so heartfelt and the arrangements and orchestrations so well crafted, it's impossible to think that any generous jazz fan wouldn't appreciate these smoky versions of Holiday classics. Granted, Ross' heavy- lidded delivery is miles away from the often tortured but always smart, rhythmically perfect and conceptually adroit work of Billie Holiday and as such, cannot in any way be viewed as an alternative to Lady Day's originals. But with its lush orchestrations and able jazz quartet accompaniment, Blue is a pleasure in its own right.
Denny does Dallas, and Pittsburgh, and Cleveland...
Calling the king of the Tiki bar, the lothario of the space-age bachelor pad! Listening to these tracks culled from multi-instrumentalist Martin Denny's pioneering plastic Polynesian catalog is like spending a night on Gilligan's Island. There are more cheesy sound effects, vibrating marimbas, bongo blasts, whoops and hollers than at your last toga party - and you can almost taste the mai-tais. The Best of Martin Denny's Exotica [Capitol] is second-class stuff compared to Brazil's innovative Esquivel but it's still fun to imagine you are at some backyard suburban barbecue bug burner working overtime, dogs on the grill as this band of freshly scrubbed white guys interprets 'exotic' island sounds. And purely from an audio angle, the music is a blast, crisscrossing the speakers to create early stereo imaging. The mix is clean and warm, with Arthur Lyman's vibraphone providing most of the melody for Martin Denny's Oahu quartet.
If I had ever been there before, yada yada yada
Crosby, Stills & Nash has done it to death. Why don't they just go away? Because remastering and vault clearing allows this now very grizzled threesome (and hundreds just like them) to keep on keeping on, even as their voices more closely resemble a croak than a croon. Their magnificent 1970 debut album, Crosby, Stills & Nash [Atlantic/Rhino] is outfitted here with liner notes by Ahmet Ertegun and David Wild, way cool pics and four never before released tracks including a cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talking". The mix on the Classic Records LP always struck me as boomy and unfocused, so here is a chance to correct the score as it were. Overall, the remastering job is superb. Gone is the boomy bass, replaced with deep and very articulate lower register notes. Instruments and voices ring out as never before and will no doubt please CS&N's millions of fans. An exceptional remaster recording. The extra tracks, except for the wordless harmonizing of "Song with No Words", don't really fit the original album. "Do For The Others" is a half-hearted attempt at a song that eventually landed on a Graham Nash release; "Everbody's Talking" is meant to be soulful but just sounds sleepy; and "Teach Your Children" is an early take that should have stayed in the vaults.
Grand Funk Flops'n'farts
"We're An American Band"? "The Locomotion"? "Mean Mistreater"? Anyone who suffered through these '70s rock insults well remembers the stranglehold Flint, Michigan's Grand Funk Railroad briefly held on early FM radio. Grand Funk Railroad's Greatest Hits [Capitol] packs more ugliness, deafness, more Afro-headed headband-wearing bicep-curling doofusness in one compilation CD than anyone of goodwill should allow. Even fellow '70s Everyman bands like Bachman Turner Overdrive and Atlanta Rhythm Section had more taste and basic good sense than Grand Funk, whose meat-headed hits predated Lenny Kravitz for sheer idiocy on a grand scale. "I'm getting closer to my home" sang Mark Farner with all the pomposity of hair gel melting on the bald cranium of a mud wrestler. Crooning like a drunken frat king about to urinate in a neighbor's yard, Farner and the other Grand Funks spread wide the wings of low class rock and its resulting common-denominator sales. Ka-ching!