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Precious
By Carlo Wolff

The Pretenders

Pirate Radio: Pretenders 1979-2005 (Warner Bros/Rhino)

The mesmerizing presence of the sensual, androgynous Chrissie Hynde comes clear on this astutely selected four-CD, one-DVD set. Besides the hits that made Akronite Hynde and her mutable band of British boys a household hard-rock name in the ’80s and early ’90s, Pirate Radio features 15 previously unreleased tracks. They span a superpunky demo of “Precious,” the rough original “Tequila,” and a cover of Merrilee Rush’s “Angel of the Morning,” which suggest the Pretenders are due for a country album, and startlingly aggressive live tracks from 2003. Since the first Pretenders album of early 1980, the ambitious Hynde has delivered ag gressively feminist music that’s largely about control. Her slashing rhythm guitar, contrasting with widely vibratoed vocals that make her sound as if she’s in heat, define the Pretenders no matter the genre; even when she’s tender—the early, previously unreleased rocker “Watching the Clothes” is fundamentally gentle, the indelibly rueful “My City Was Gone” as much a love song to dying cities as Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” was in the more innocent ’60s—she’s sharp.

And even though vocalist-rhythm guitarist Hynde is the one constant in her lineups (Martin Chambers, second only to the Stones’ Charlie Watts in his blend of swing and authority, remains her closest associate), the Pretenders are instantly recognizable as a band of implacable purpose, power and originality. How consistent and meaningful they are come through beautifully here. And don’t overlook the raunchy S. Clay Wilson poster illustrating why Hynde and her seasoned, swaggering mates so accurately call this Pirate Radio.

Terje Rypdal

Vossabrygg (ECM)

The enduring influence of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew from 1969 is unmistakable across a wide swath of musical genres. From the opening bars of the latest recording by Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal, it’s clear what his reference point is. Commissioned a few years ago by Norway’s Vossa Jazz Festival, Vossabrygg features layers of undulating textures created by the eight-piece ensemble. Riffs atop riffs are all propelled by ever-present rhythmic grooves. Trumpet player Palle Mikkelborg makes his entrance on long-held notes and, evoking Miles, has a synthesizer in his arsenal as well. Two keyboardists (deploying Hammond organ, synthesizers, and the softly crystalline tones of the Fender electric piano) are bolstered by Terje’s son Marius, whose samples, turntables and other electronics bring in elements from looped beats to echoed voices. The 10 tracks do not mimic Miles Davis, rather, they pay homage to the music he created and all the possibilities that followed in its wake.

—David Greenberger

Tokyo String Quartet

Beethoven: Razumovsky Quartets (Harmonia Mundi)

When they recorded a cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets for RCA Victor 15 years ago, the Tokyo String Quartet had already been around for more than 20 years. These weren’t the thoughts of a youthful group. A new set of the three “Razumovsky” quartets—numbers seven through nine of Beethoven’s 16—finds the Tokyo Quartet slightly more mellow, but only slightly.

Two of the players have changed since that earlier recording. First violinist Martin Beaver and cellist Clive Greensmith joined within the last few years; second violinist Kikuei Ikeda has been on board since 1974 and violist Kazuhide Isomura is a founding member.

Incredibly, their timings of the earlier and current recordings are within seconds of each other: The Quartet No. 7, for instance, was 40:31 in the RCA set; the new Harmonia Mundi version is 40:37.

A philosophical consistency certainly obtains, but the new recording sounds a little edgier, as if the decisions of the earlier set were too settled, too pat. Certainly the players themselves are as accomplished as ever, giving the works the necessary technical transparency, but now you can hear more of the conflict in the works, always an important feature to highlight in Beethoven’s music.

But what most distinguishes one set from the other is the superior recorded sound of the new stuff. The instruments have a better presence, and there’s more warmth to the mix. It will be a pleasure to welcome new installments in this series, but such cycles haven’t been faring well in the current classical-recordings market. Despite the abundance of Beethoven quartet CDs on the shelves, this is a worthy addition, so here’s hoping for more.

—B.A. Nilsson


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