Music

In Loving Memory of America

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CD, Gilad Atzmon

Disclaimer - I've never previously much liked Gilad Atzmon's CDs. Live, he can be brilliant, with a bite and intensity that make him one of the best jazz artists working in Britain today. But I've rarely felt that he's managed to capture that on CD.

This is very different, though. His new recording mixes a love of and nostalgia for the jazz tradition with some very contemporary orchestration and sounds. But while the central concept is rooted in jazz history, this is far from a retro exercise in simply re-creating the past.

Tell It Like It Is

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Stephanie McKay

Released in July, Tell It Like It Is, by singer/songwriter Stephanie McKay, is an excellent soul album for today. Drawing on the sounds of classic soul, 1970s funk and old school hip hop, McKay's second solo album is a successful attempt to reflect and relate to the world that ordinary people find themselves in. Speaking about her album, McKay makes it clear what she is trying to do: "It used to be that albums from the past, particularly soul albums, would tackle life's issues and problems - as well as the fun... It's what I grew up on.

New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)

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Erykah Badu

New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) is without question one of the most political and complex soul albums of recent times.

Sewn into the album are echoes of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On?, Curtis Mayfield's This is America and a flavour of Funkadelic. At times you can hear an historical echo of the Black Power and consciousness raising themes of the 1970s.

Acoustic: The best of Souad Massi

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Souad Massi started in a rock band in her native Algeria, eventually fleeing the country because of the political nature of the outfit and its popularity - during live performances Massi used to invite people on stage and start debates about life in Algeria.

In solidarity with the Palestinian people, she also recently refused to play in Tel-Aviv during a tour of the Middle East, during which she performed in Ramallah.

The 12 songs on this CD are a good introduction to the Algerian artist Souad Massi. With influences from folk to Flamenco via popular north African music and Portuguese Fado, this live recording is like a warm embrace in winter.

Washington Square Serenade

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Steve Earle

On his new album, Washington Square Serenade, Steve Earle may have swapped crashing guitars for mandolins and banjos, and the harder edge of his work may also be punctuated with beautiful, melodic love songs such as "Sparkle and Shine" and "Days Aren't Long Enough". But the fact remains that anyone who signs off his introductory notes with the epithet "Fuck Lou Dobbs" - the CNN anchorman famous for racist, anti-immigration diatribes - has nailed his political colours firmly to the mast.

Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra

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Mahler: Symphony No 5

The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela has burst onto the classical music scene over the last couple of years. Formed in 1975 it struggled for most of its existence until the rise of Hugo Chavez's government and the popular movements. It now has permanent public funding which has allowed it to grow and travel the world with its performances.

Made up of young people from the barrios, who are given instruments and tuition for free, it has been credited with giving hundreds of thousands of poor kids a chance to escape poverty, drugs and crime.

Refuge

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Gilad Atzmon

Readers of Socialist Review may know jazz musician Gilad Atzmon due to his Coltrane tour with Martin Smith and the Cultures of Resistance gig at this year's Marxism. An Israeli living in self imposed exile in London, he is an outspoken anti-Zionist and opponent of the war in Iraq.

Lyrical warrior: K'Naan

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Rapper K'Naan spoke to Colin Smith about growing up in Somalia and using beats against US foreign policy

Your sound is very different from the mainstream hip-hop or rap music around at the moment. In particular you use a lot of African rhythms and instruments on your backing tracks.

It's a sound that just came naturally. You could have asked me how come I speak Somali half the time. Music is a direct and honest expression and extension of who you are. Having spent half my life in Africa and the other half in North America what could I do that is honest? That's my sound. It's a fusion of the two worlds. And I couldn't help but create it just like that.

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