Music

1810: The Year of Chopin and Schumann

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Music is the most abstract of the arts yet it tells us truths about the world through its impact on our emotional life.

The human experience which the composers convey is not simply the product of past musical influences but is shaped by the historical context. This is borne out by the strange coincidence that Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, the two greatest composers of romantic piano music, were born in the same year.

Genuine Negro Jig

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The Carolina Chocolate Drops; Out now

This new album by the three-piece string band The Carolina Chocolate Drops is perhaps their best recorded work. It really takes full advantage of their vocal talent - especially opera-trained Rhiannon Giddens - and covers a much wider selection of genres than their previous releases.

I'm New Here

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Album by Gil Scott-Heron; Out now

It's good to hear Gil Scott-Heron's deep voice - the voice of a poet mapping an emotional world - singing with more confidence than he has for a long while. After two decades struggling against drug and alcohol abuse he has made an album that those of us who remember him well will be happy with.

Floodplain

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Kronos Quartet

The Kronos Quartet is probably one of the most prolific string quartets around. Over the past 30 years it has released more than 40 recordings and performed live countless times (it spends at least five months touring every year). But what's most impressive with the quartet is its thirst to commission original works (more than 600 of them) and the number of artists it works with.

Grey Britain, The Gallows; Music for the People, The Enemy

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The Specials, The Jam and The Clash articulated the anger and pain felt by millions of young people during the early years of the Thatcher era. Today a new generation of young people are being thrown on the unemployment scrapheap - over 616,000 people aged between 16 and 25 have found themselves without work.

Two new albums, Grey Britain by The Gallows and Music for the People by The Enemy, are hymns for a new generation staring into the void created by the recession.

The Gallows are from Watford and The Enemy are from Coventry, both places, in their own ways, urban ghost towns - places where the dreams of the young, brought up on mass consumerism and materialism, are going to be destroyed.

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.

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