Protest music is easier to do with lyrics than instrumentally, as anybody who's ever listened to Billie Holiday sing "Strange Fruit" ought to know. Which only serves to make the way Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra gets its point across with "Not in Our Name" more impressive to me.
On track 4 in particular, I think the message is as clear as if there were words in the discordant, militarized, funereal rendering of "America the Beautiful" opening a medley that then shifts to a more soaring, hopeful and jazzy take on the song before moving into a rousing interlude of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," with a definite New Orleans influence, and Ornette Coleman's "Skies Over America."
Don't worry, "Not in Our Name," Verve, isn't a polemic. You get interesting, even fun music, too, mostly arranged by pianist Carla Bley. The title track is a wonderful, Spanish-inflected modern big band piece. Check out the reggae beat and clever quotes of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" on "This Is Not America," a collaborative composition from Pat Metheny and David Bowie no less. On "Blue Anthem," a military tattoo slides into a soulful blues and a great sax solo by Tony Malaby, I believe. It also could be Miguel Zenon. The funky, bluesy version of "Amazing Grace" makes me want to get down. Nice bass and guitar by Haden and Steve Cardenas.
If you think the U.S. is currently acting the way it should for some reason (and you're wrong for so many reasons if you do) this is still an excellent disk. Since there are no words, you can more easily ignore the message (although you shouldn't) and enjoy the tunes.