Welcome back to Blast from the Past!, a monthly column where we give a brief rundown and hopefully less brief descriptions of the latest in the worlds of jazz, rock, multi-culti and misc. recordings currently hitting the retail racks. This month we delve into some dinosaurs (Eric Clapton), Brazilian masters (Sergio Mendes), jazz geniuses (John Coltrane) and even a big hair band from the 1980s. Read on, rock on, party on.







Sergio lives!
Before he manned the bandstand for Brasil 66, which produced jazzy bossa nova versions of "Fool on the Hill" and "Light My Fire", Sergio Mendes was Rio's most in-demand session cat. As evidenced on Pure Bossa Nova: The Sound of Sergio Mendes (Planet Rhythm/Universal), the pianist leads a crack quintet that includes innovative drummer Edison Machado playing bossa nova standards with a relaxed, sparking gate that practically transports you to Rio circa 1963 (the era in which these songs were originally recorded). Those who think of Mendes as simply a cocktail pianist in bossa clothing will be surprised at the fervor of these 14 tracks, which include Jobim standards and the pianist's originals. Similar to the import only Sergio Mendes & Bossa Rio but including additional tracks from Mendes' trio recordings, the album offers tight arrangements, excellent soloing and a gritty jazz logic not found in later Mendes efforts.

Universal/Planet Rhythm continues to release all things Brazilian in their ongoing Pure Brazil series, including the second installment of Samba Social Club and Rio Bahia Carnival, subtitled The Worlds Happiest Soundtrack. First up, vocalists Clara Nunes, Elza Soares, Beth Carvalho and others revel in the riches of real urban samba. Even deeper on the folk tip, Rio Bahia Carnival condenses the feverish rumble of the yearly Sambodromo Carnival celebrations and the street parades of Bahia to the north in studio recordings that are supercharged with clamoring percussion and thrilling arrangements. Caetano Veloso, Beth Carvalho, Wilson Simonal (and where is his comp?) and Gilberto Gil line up next to authentic samba schools like Timbalada, Banda Eva, Carlinhos do Repique and Bando Beijo. The sound on some tracks is more electronic, less acoustic than one would expect from an authentic street samba parade but the intent is in full effect.


The House that Trane built?
The Impulse! Records label has some of the most brilliant jazz of the '60s and '70s in its vaults, but the managing overlords (currently Universal) who have held sway over that mother lode have treated it more like a curse than a blessing. Recent reissues saw Impulse! opening their vaults to undistinguished DJ talent allowed to rifle, rape and pillage as they pleased in a cynical bid for cash and dance club acceptance. Impulsive! Revolutionary Jazz Reworked added house grooves to Charles Mingus, turntable scratching to Clark Terry and further remixing insults to Archie Shepp and Oliver Nelson. Is crucifixion a possibility for the masterminds behind these heinous outrages? Or perhaps penance is being offered in The House that Trane Built - The Best of Impulse Records, a sublime, simple but ultimately shortchanged collection of classic Impulse! tracks.

The title gets it right: this is a handful of exceptional tracks produced by Impulse! that reflect John Coltrane's jazz revolution both before and after. The remastered tracks form a primer of jazz excellence: Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments", Art Blakey's "Alamode" (with Freddie Hubbard), Charles Mingus' dusky "Theme for Lester Young" and Earl Hines earthy take on Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy" - plus selections from John Handy, Alice and John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp. These compositions and performances show a society at its zenith, masterful musicians working brilliantly under the supervision of genius composers and band leaders. Their accomplishments are so towering compared to current musical endeavors, one wonders where everything went so obviously wrong. The album is, at nine tracks, embarrassingly short. Selections from Roy Haynes, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Johnny Hartman, Ahmad Jamal and Elvin Jones would have helped make amends for Impulse's current criminal status but there is hope for future installments of The House That Trane Built. Respect!

This just in: This is a sampler! The full box set expands on the theme, the four disc set covering every corner of the Impulse! roster. I have just received the additional titles and will report on those next time around.
Clapton before the Fall
After supergroup tenures with Cream and Blind Faith, Eric Clapton -- in 1970 still perceived as God -- set out to make a name for himself solo. Going up country (as was de rigeur at the time, along with Earth shoes and cedar shingles) with Delaney and Bonnie and their crack band of session aces, Clapton recorded a streamlined album of steaming soul epics and acoustic R&B stoners simply titled Eric Clapton. Derek and the Dominoes' Layla would follow, along with heroin addiction, the theft of a Beatle wife and eventually, total physical collapse (followed by a graceless return with 461 Ocean Boulevard) but here Clapton is in exceptional form, blazing sparks and spitting grit on his Strat and singing up a blue-eyed soul storm. The album yielded a hit in J.J. Cale's "After Midnight" and the Clapton/Bonnie Bramlett-penned "Easy Now" while other sure-fire smokers included the burning "Blues Power", the sprightly jamming of "Bottle of Red Wine" and the beautiful acoustic epiphany "Let It Rain". The album climbed to #3 on the charts and kick-started the careers of Rita Coolidge and Leon Russell. The reissued Eric Clapton - Deluxe Edition offers a sparkling remastering job as well as unreleased tracks in the smoldering "Blues in A", "Teasing" (a noisy King Curtis instrumental featuring Clapton) and the original version of "Let It Rain" entitled "She Rides", with different lyrics and a mellower delivery. The two disc set also includes an original alternate mix of the entire album by Delaney Bramlett as well a classic cut from Delaney and Bonnie originally found on Delaney and Bonnie and Friends In Concert, and "Groupie", which in another form became the '70s top ten hit "Superstar" performed first by Rita Coolidge, then Karen Carpenter.

The alternate album mix is not as soul-fried as one might expect given Delaney's Deep South pedigree, but only slightly different. "Easy Now" is somehow more gleaming, the voice and guitar glistening more so than on the original. Aiming for radio perhaps? "After Midnight" sports a stabbing, Stax-styled horn section, rollicking bar room piano and vocal 'hoots' throughout the heavily echoed guitar solo. Overall, the sound is brighter, and occasional instrumental differences are barely noticeable but fun when they pop through the mix. The studio version of "Coming Home" is a real blast, the band replicating the live version (which included George Harrison) with superior studio sonics. Great pics and liner notes add to this largely forgotten classic.

Tears, Fears, and Big Hair
1980s' synth pop duo Tears for Fears had massive global hits with "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" before fading into history. The band had a sure grasp of pop style, especially the Beatles, reflected in the "Strawberry Fields" sound-alike "Sowing the Seeds of Love" (not included here) and later, the bossa-nova-on-speed production masterpiece "Advice for the Young At Heart" (also MIA here). Somehow, Universal Music has crammed two discs of remastered material into Songs from the Big Chair - Deluxe Edition, B Sides, 7" and 12" singles making up the bulk of package. Do yourself a favor, hit eBay for the used vinyl and definitely search out 1989's The Seeds of Love, which includes the aforementioned exceptional tracks missing from the Big Chair - Deluxe Edition. Make Roland Orzabal proud.



New Age Redux
Remember the Windham Hill label? Back in the 1980s, pianist George Winston's December, Summer and Forest albums conned millions of consumers with daft production and single note 'rural folk' instrumentals that were the sonic equivalent of Jell-O solidifying, milk curdling or chocolate pudding going uneaten. But amid Windham Hill's whitewashed sonic wallpaper were a handful of decent, even stimulating artists, including trumpeter Mark Isham and guitarists Will Ackerman and Michael Hedges. Legacy, Sony's reissue arm, has reintroduced Windham Hill's largely banal offerings with an equally repulsive branding name: Pure. Hmm, could that be pure as in lacking influences from other cultures perhaps? Pure as in a pedigree untainted by outside forces? You are free to conjure your own malevolent notions but do check out the Pure reissues from Isham and Ackermann, brilliant musicians whose Windham Hill albums, here boiled down to an essential comp apiece, surpassed the label's New Age crimes.