Death and the maiden

2006 saw the passing of some extremely fine musicians

This year has brought the passing of some fine musicians. With the death of György Ligeti, the New York avant-garde minimalist composer Steve Reich took over the perhaps dubious mantle of greatest living composer, in the year of his 70th birthday. Phases (Nonesuch), the five-CD set that accompanied the Barbican's festival of Reich's work, was a superb retrospective, from the aural trips of his 1960s tape loops to his more melodic compositions.

Ali Farka Touré's death robbed the world of a blues hero, a key player in the history of African music and a farmer who changed the fortunes of his native Mali - he ploughed the fortunes from his records into irrigation schemes. Savane (World Circuit) was his comeback album. Knowing he was fatally ill, he left his farming behind to record one last time, enlisting James Brown's saxman Pee Wee Ellis and a fine cast of African musicians. The result is a magic, tragic album full of blues riffs and heartfelt lyrical music.

Finally, the very much alive, but tragically overlooked (here at least) Bic Runga. In her native New Zealand she sells more records than U2. Here she packs out small venues, but her voice, her guitar playing and her sheer songwriting skill are awesome. Birds (BMG), a little less jolly than her earlier offerings, is a deep, rich record. From the sublimely heartbroken opener "Captured" to the romantic dreaminess of "Somewhere in the Night", it takes you on a journey of rare musical soul.