Ali & Toumani lives up to and perhaps exceeds expectations.
Jon Lusk 2010-02-12
Released over four years after it was recorded, Ali & Toumani is the second of two lovely acoustic duet albums by the late, great desert blues guitarist and singer Ali Farka Touré and kora wizard Toumani Diabaté. Touré died on March 7, 2006 and if his last solo album, Savane, was a reverb-heavy rage against the dying of the light, this is a resigned but eloquent farewell.
Just like their other joint album – the Grammy-winning In the Heart of the Moon – it was made over three days in largely spontaneous sessions. However, this was laid down in London rather than the Malian capital of Bamako, by which time the two had played together a little more. Another difference is the presence of Buena Vista Social Club bass player Cachaíto, booming away comfortingly on around half of the tracks.
The gently flowing opener Ruby is as good as anything either artist has recorded, and shows just how much chemistry there was between them. Things start to swing in a distinctly Cuban style on Sabu Yerkoy, thanks to Cachaíto and some unobtrusive congas. It’s also one of only two vocals that Touré manages – the other being Sina Mory. On both, the contrast with the strident, nasal delivery of his previous work is striking; this is the voice of a man who doesn’t have long to live, and knows it all too well.
As on In the Heart of the Moon, the material is a mix of Touré’s northern traditions and the southern Mandé music of Diabaté, and includes reworkings of pieces that will be familiar to long-term fans of Touré.
Doudou is an instrumental version of Singya, which was on his eponymous World Circuit debut in 1987. Here, Diabaté improvises on the melodic line of the vocal in the earlier version. Machengoidi also appeared on Radio Mali (1996) and Savane (in an electric setting) but is once again stripped of its vocal and played in a more subdued manner. The other update is an inspired reading of 56. On Touré’s 1992 opus The Source, it was a sparkling solo guitar piece, but this version has been ‘coloured in’ with Cachaíto’s bass and some echoing interplay between guitar and kora.
Beautifully recorded, Ali & Toumani lives up to and perhaps exceeds expectations. But will it also win a Grammy?