Mindful perhaps of the Mali-fatigue that seems to be affecting some parts of the world/roots community, this sedate and beautifully textured release arrives to somewhat less of a fanfare than its highly praised predecessor, In the Heart of the Moon. However, Ali and Toumani is at least as worthy of our attention given the timeless and empathetic approach these two master musicians have to their craft - or had in the case of Ali Farka, of course, this album having been recorded in London in 2005 against the backdrop of pain and illness that the cancer-stricken Touré endured at the time.
It’s difficult not to read some of that setting into the serenity that marks this far more measured and spacious release. The guitarist is no more or less mellow than he was on the earlier album – or indeed his last solo album, Savane – but there is a deference in Toumani’s playing that suggests some attempt to eschew much of kora player’s improvisational abilities in favour of a musical resolution between the Peul and Mandé traditions of the two musicians. The virtuosity is never too far from the surface though, Ali’s hypnotic circular melodies acting once again as a base for kora notes that spiral, shimmer and fall with studied grace. Ali punctuates those moments with moves into the instrumental spotlight that are more considered but no less effective, with regular traces popping up of some of his favourite melodic motifs from the past (once more for that heart-stopping Kadi Kadi riff) occasionally buttressed by his gruffly welcoming voice.
Ali and Toumani is an exercise in note-perfect, expressive restraint, anchored at times by the silky bass – at once lithe and darkly melancholic – of the (now also sadly deceased) Cuban Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez, and burnished with some subtle finishing touches by Vieux Farka Touré and his band. Fully deserves as many plaudits as its garlanded predecessor.