Ali Farka Toure / Toumani Diabate In the Heart of the Moon

It’s impossible not to like this album. This is the first ever meeting between two of Mali’s greatest musicians, one a master of blues guitar, the other one of the foremost kora (21-stringed harp) players in the world. While they both hail from the same country, both are separated by Mali’s north/south religious divide and its associated politics. Amazingly, the two musicians’ performances on In the Heart of the Moon are completely improvised. Producer Nick Gold (Buena Vista Social Club et al) got the two together in the penthouse of a hotel in Mali’s capital of Bamako and got levels for their respective instruments, discussed a few folk themes, and they went right off. Toure provides the rhythm accompaniment in his deliberate and hypnotic way, with bass-y strings emphasising the downbeat in constantly changing ways. Diabate weaves a spell around him, taking off from unison playing into extemporaneous statements that would make Buck Owens blush. And that’s how it remains on the most successful cuts. Other tunes feature sparse embellishments of percussion or acoustic bass, the latter courtesy of one of Cuba’s finest, Cachaito Lopez. The only misstep is Ry Cooder’s occasional keyboard overdubs, which introduce an unwelcome and almost amateurish artificiality that threatens to break the spell. This album is a must for any guitar fan, and for those who got turned onto Joanna Newsom this year. (Nonesuch)