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Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabete, "Ali and Toumani"

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Ali and Toumani contains the final recordings made by a pair of master musicians: the Malian guitarist Ali Farka Tour, who died in 2006, and the Cuban bassist Orlando “Cachato" Lopez, who died last year.

But this 11-track album -- the second collection of collaborations by Tour and the Malian kora player Toumani Diabet -- doesn't sound like death. Rather, it's an early contender for the warmest, most life-affirming listen of 2010.

As it was on the 2005 Grammy-winning “In the Heart of the Moon," the setup here is exceedingly simple. Shortly before a European tour in support of “Moon," that album's producer, Nick Gold, booked a London studio for three days and told Tour and Diabet (along with a small cast of players) to do their thing. And so they did, running through material from each of their songbooks as well as a handful of African traditionals, including “Sina Mory," which Gold reveals in the album's liner notes was the tune that originally inspired Tour to play guitar.

Floating atop a gentle heartbeat pulse laid down by Lopez on bass and Tour's son Vieux on congas, the two principals trade licks with an intimacy that speaks of friendship but also of a shared understanding.

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