Let's get the dreaded 'f' word out of the way before we start – yes, this is a fusion of sounds from disparate parts of western, northern and south-eastern Africa, but the pieces on this sumptuously produced album have been carefully honed to produce a coalition rather than a clash of styles (it would have been quite something to witness the early improvisational sessions and concerts that led to these sympathetically structured arrangements).
Comparisons have been made in the past between the valiha – the tubular bamboo zither of Madagascar - and the kora, and the two instruments dovetail well here. Malian kora maestro Ballaké Sissoko largely restrains from embarking on rippling, improvisational runs, giving space to Rajery's bright, chiming phrasing on the valiha. The result is a flowing, delicately-spiced tunefulness, which by definition compromises the individuality of these two great musicians but in favour of an unforced, intuitive union between the two. Two instruments become one in the most satisfactory way, but left to their own devices they might well have lacked a weighty, deeper tone, which is where the striking oud work of Morocco's Driss El Maloumi comes in.
There's a strong virtuoso feel to his playing as he drives out a dry, fretted bass groove whilst picking out notes that flit around the melodic base provided by Rajery and Sissoko. The result is a pleasing variety of approaches - slow, reflective numbers are mixed with ringing mid-tempo tunes; subtle Arabic flavours, Manding rhythms and summery Indian Ocean melodies are given an airing; and each musician embarks on constrained, well-timed solos. They all get an occasional opportunity to stretch their vocal chords as well (Rajery's soulful falsetto is always a welcome sound), and each takes a solo piece too, which teasingly serve to underline the excellence of the individual elements deployed on this exquisitely put-together album. Three master musicians, one masterful collection of beautifully rendered harmonic interplay.