Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
Most punk bands imploded. The ones from the first and most damaging wave, anyway. The Clash is the exception. The Sex Pistols, widely and rightly held to be one of the most significant acts to emerge from the late-'70s British punk scene, made one album and then disintegrated in the middle of its first American tour. Most punks took to heart that most famous of statements from the godfather of punk, Pete Townshend: "Hope I die before I get old."
Chrissy Hynde, a native of Akron, Ohio, but a transplant who made it first as a journalist documenting London's nascent punk scene, and later, as leader of the Pretenders, was certainly a punk; she had the attitude, the proper respect for the form's '60s elders, the right androgynous Patti Smith-meets-Keith Richards look, the proper leather jacket-clad band members. She was even married to Ray Davies of the Kinks for something like five minutes. But Hynde is a survivor. And her music, though punk in its roots, flowered way beyond the strictures of that fashion-statement-as-music genre.
The Pretenders fell out of favor at the end of the '80s, commercially speaking. Two original members, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon -- so responsible for the band's sound, a blend of '60s guitar jangle, street-wise grit and subtle virtuosity -- succumbed to drug addiction and died. Hynde soldiered on with drummer Martin Chambers and a rotating cast of supportive characters, and the music didn't really suffer much.
Still, the time seems ripe to give Hynde and the Pretenders their due. Presto! Here's "Pirate Radio," a four-disc/one-DVD collection covering the entirety of the band's career to date. Absorbing all of this in one sitting is to fully acknowledge Hynde and Co.'s pop genius, for this music is timeless, from the back-alley grandeur of "Kid" and "Stop Your Sobbing," through the Byrds-like charm of "Back on the Chain Gang" and "Don't Get Me Wrong," to the shamelessly melodic "Sense of Purpose" and "I'll Stand by You."
More pop than punk, but what's in a name?
-- Jeff Miers
Odean Pope Saxophone Choir
Locked and Loaded: Live at the Blue Note featuring Michael Brecker, James Carter and Joe Lovano
Review: 3 1/2 stars
Michael Brecker, James Carter and Joe Lovano joined the eight saxophonists onstage that night last year at the Blue Note. Even more remarkably, Ornette Coleman was in the audience -- an invitee suggested by Prince Lasha. So pleased was Coleman that he contributed notes for the disc. (Printed verbatim, they come complete with wayward spellings and typically elusive praise for the group's "nonresolutional ideas." Music, says Coleman, is "an idea without a destiny or a movement; it fulfills the present.")
It's a superb disc with plushly voiced and wonderfully textured Pope arrangements for his saxophone choir and passionate solos from all the guests as well as Pope himself. (Brecker's battle with blood disease and need for marrow donation were just about to go public.)
Until Pope got the idea for his saxophone choir, he was best known for his tenure in the brilliant pianoless quartet of Max Roach. Both groups have played here -- Pope's at Hallwalls and Roach's, in his first (and only) Buffalo gig, at the Tralf. No one, then, should be surprised that Roach's terrific bassist Tyrone Brown is on this disc and that Pope's drummer, Craig McIver, contributes as decisively to the group's fierce swing as the hornmen.
-- Jeff Simon
Violin Concertos 1 and 2 and Romance from "The Gadfly," performed by violinist Daniel Hope with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Maxim Shostakovich
Review: 3 1/2 stars
Violin Concerto No. 1 with Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1, performed by violinist Sarah Chang and the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle
Review: 3 stars
The continental avalanche of Shostakovich recordings continues unabated. Here are no less than two fine young violinists giving brand new recordings of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto, written in 1948 but not performed until seven years later, when Stalin was safely dead for two years and all the martinets of "socialist realism" were abating enough for a profound and complex concerto to be performed without being lambasted as "bourgeois formalism." It is, like Brahms' First Piano Concerto, almost as much a symphony as a concerto. It is large in scale (nearly 40 minutes) and a good deal more "serious" than some of Shostakovich's Symphonies.
Beaux Arts Trio violinist Daniel Hope's fine disc is completed by the mercurial and lesser second violin concerto from almost two decades later and the Romance from "The Gadfly." Hope -- a Menuhin disciple -- is a student of the music, and having Shostakovich's son Maxim conducting doesn't hurt.
Violinist Sarah Chang pairs the Shostakovich first concerto with Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1, which was written three decades earlier, practically in the middle of the Russian Revolution (and with its composer in love, to boot). Both, for obvious reasons, were identified for years with David Oistrakh, the patriarch of 20th century Russian violinists. Chang does superbly at both compositional temperatures (she is, every inch, a virtuoso) though it is Hope, in comparison, who has truly gone "inside" Shostakovich's first violin concerto.
Stars of CCTV
Review: 3 stars
It had to happen. In a Britain going through serious economic troubles, torn in two by a class war that started in the Thatcher era -- and earlier, in fact -- and now rages in the days of Blair, it was an inescapable eventuality that music would emerge from the streets to reflect such class divisions. Hard-Fi is being touted as its generation's Clash across the pond. That may be heaping too much praise upon this quartet; it is fair to say, however, that the band is offering a healthy alternative to the swooning, glossy, starry-eyed pop of British bands like Keane and Coldplay.
"Stars of CCTV" is clearly a do-it-yourself project, one redolent of the computer recording age in which even a group of scruffs can gather up enough pounds and pence to buy what essentially amounts to a 24-track recording studio. Hard-Fi did just that and laid to its hard-drive a blazing, energetic and unabashedly youthful collection of tunes blending hip-hop, dub, reggae and good old rock 'n' roll.
This music might not save the world, to say nothing of the music industry, but it is pleasing on several levels. First off, it's honest; this is music made by poor kids without much hope of a future beyond the one that might be afforded by their music, and that's always a recipe for urgency in rock music, if nothing else. Hard-Fi has that in spades.
The band also has a clear view of what it wants to do, which is, essentially, create its own generation's "Sandinista," that mighty melting pot of styles that is the Clash's masterwork.
Just when you think everything has been done, along comes a band capable of mashing together tried and true styles into an exciting new pudding. I suspect we'll be hearing plenty about Hard-Fi in the coming months. "Stars of CCTV" is not a masterpiece, but it is certainly a promising start.