In the Heart of the Moon contains two or three moments in which you hear a low murmur pass between Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté. These brief communications between the guitarist and the kora player are, it seems, all that this album, the first of a trilogy, needed in its making. Rarely do intuition and spontaneity proceed in tandem.
And with what elegance, too; wit defines the interplay between the two Malian virtuosi. Traditional tunes and songs such as ‘Kaira’ or ‘Ai ga Bani’ are stripped down to their bare essentials and then redecorated, with Diabaté’s kora lines the equivalent of lithe runners. At other times, the two musicians settle into to-and-fro communication, each instrument introducing a theme for the other to embellish and pass back. The presence of a handful of other contributors, including Ry Cooder on piano, is subtle in the extreme. Overall, the music here is as intricate and as clear as Bach’s.
Above all, there’s a huge imaginative world at the centre of In the Heart of the Moon. In one way, it couldn’t be more Malian – its two musicians, its recording in a mobile studio in Bamako, its homegrown material. And yet the music feels bigger than Mali. Maybe because the area is the crucible of the blues – and Touré is a guitarist whose long career has been spent disseminating the form’s African roots – there’s a surface familiarity; but more likely because musical conversations don’t come more intense than this.