Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Arabic Lounge

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This doesn't quite play by the normal rules of lounge music. Yes, there's plenty to chill the ears, but also a fair bit that falls outside those boundaries, such as Amit Esaffar's modern jazz take on "Khosh Reng (Maqam Awj)," or the self-explanatory "Taksim Cello 1," a lovely, haunting piece that's more thought-provoking than relaxing. "Johnny Guitar," by the late and very great oud player Munir Bashir, is like a master class on the instrument, rather than background sound, although it is deceptively smooth. Dozan's "Ya Mo" is wonderfully lush, but hides its darkness, making it compelling. However, the odd one out, beyond any doubt is "El Huerfanito (Ya Habibi Ta'ala)," which is pure Cuban son from the Middle East, played by Hanine y Son Cubano. It introduces a jarring note, just as the jazz does, and serves as a reminder of just how cosmopolitan the Arab world is. Natacha Atlas' contribution is refreshingly soft, even if it does borrow its bassline from Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," bringing some gentle funk to the proceedings. It all ends with a spacy, disorienting track from Azzddine with Bill Laswell -- a true desert trip. The second CD in the set is some bubbly Arab pop from Akim el Sikameya.

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