The Mande Variations makes a convincing case for Mande music as one of the world's great classical traditions. Diabate's fluent playing is more expansive and worldly than on his first solo kora album, 1988's groundbreaking Kaira, and he plays here with unrivaled subtlety. Disappointingly, not every track enchants -- his tribute to Ali Farka Toure seems unconnected to the man's music, and his tribute to his spiritual teacher Ismael Drame lacks fire. But "Kaouding Cissokho" is astounding, and "Djourou Kara Nany" simply breathes kindness. Recorded in just two hours with no overdubs.