CREAM Those Were the Days (Polydor * * * * ): The current crop of jam-happy rockers aspire to the values of late '60s music, but they all overlook one critical thing: the effortless ensemble cohesion perfected by the legendary trio Cream.
Much maligned for its extended rounds of blues, boogie and drum solos, Cream never hid its virtuosity. Operating with a jazz trio's spontaneous interaction and a reverence for the blues, guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker took listeners on imaginative journeys that followed no flight plan and relied on telepathy for navigation.
The four-disc Those Were the Days argues that free-form music wasn't always wonky. Cream, at least, maintained a narrative thread and made music that was passionate no matter how far into the ether it flew. The first two discs cover Cream's entire studio output, from the Bruce composition ``Wrapping Paper,'' cut in 1966, through ``Badge'' and others recorded in late 1968 as the group was crumbling. There are a few rarities, including a Falstaff beer commercial, demos of ``You Make Me Feel'' and ``Swlabr,'' and a previously unavailable two-minute romp through ``Lawdy Mama'' that perfectly captures Cream's alternating currents of power and finesse.
The other discs are live recordings organized to approximate the song sequence of a typical Cream set. These tracks, many available previously, demonstrate that, though Cream was fairly loose in the studio, its power and grace were best appreciated in performance. There's nothing else in rock quite like Cream ripping through ``Spoonful'' or ``Sweet Wine,'' injecting bitter blues with new resonance.
How inventive was this trio? Even its prototypical rock single ``Sunshine of Your Love'' - which is heard several times here, once in a previously unreleased appearance on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour - travels radically different paths each time.
THE REPLACEMENTS All for Nothing/Nothing for All (Reprise * * * 1/2). Anyone requiring further proof that the Replacements were the most eloquent bridge between '70s punk and '90s alternative rock is directed to ``Nothing for All,'' the collection of rarities that is half of this two-disc anthology devoted to the band's years at Sire, roughly 1985-1990. Here is unlikely poet Paul Westerberg at his surliest (``Beer for Breakfast,'' ``Wake Up'') and his most achingly honest (``Portland,'' ``Who Knows'').
Here, too, is a band that appreciated the whole sweep of rock history. Though many dismissed the Replacements as musical louts, tracks such as ``Jungle Love,'' which gathers '50s cooing backup vocals and rockabilly guitars into an affectionately kitschy masterpiece, show that the quartet understood rock lineage and its unique place in it.
There are only a few live tracks, a shame given the incendiary nature of some Replacements performances, but the discs complement each other perfectly: The ``hits'' capture Westerberg's terse wordplay and disconsolate, shrugged-shoulders approach to songwriting, while the rarities collection offers a lighter glimpse of a band kids will be copping in the next century.
OPA Goldenwings/Magic Time (Milestone * * * ). Now that most of the classics of the jazz-fusion era are on CD, it's nice to see labels turning their attention to some footnotes and lost masterpieces - including work by the pioneering South American band Opa, whose long-out-of-print American titles Goldenwings and Magic Time were recorded in 1976 and '77.
Built around the multi-instrumental skills of Uruguay's Huga and George Fattoruso, this collective melds the flighty spirit of Brazilian samba and the groove consciousness of jazz and funk into a brainy yet danceable concoction later embraced by Djavan and others. Goldenwings is particularly engrossing: At a time when American jazzers cluttered fusion with virtuostic twaddle, Opa created soaring, spirit-filled music that was as light as the breeze.
JIMI HENDRIX South Saturn Delta (MCA * * * ). Jimi Hendrix has been well served by anthologies over the last few years, and South Saturn Delta - which gathers odds and ends from recording sessions at various points in his career - enhances his legacy even more. Complementing sketchy treatments of signature pieces such as ``Little Wing'' and ``Angel'' are less song-oriented works in which Hendrix nudges the boundary between jazz and rock with combustible, breathtakingly alive solos. Among the gems: a stomping ``Tax Free,'' the smoldering title track, and the James Brown-influenced ``Power of Soul,'' a virtual index of the funk guitar techniques that would rule the '70s.