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
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.
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.
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.