Tinder Records, 2003
86 1082
label website
After two years of research, the Italian formation "Milagro Acustico" follows up their Onirico acoustical album with this year's The Story of the Stranger's Café, an imaginary Silician bistro tavern at the crossroads between Tunisia to the South, the Balkans to the East, Portugal and Spain to the West, and Italy to the North. Thus in the very center of Middle Earth (the Mediterranean), it becomes the story-telling meeting ground for globetrotters, vagabonds, pilgrims and refugees.

With this conceptual map emblazoned across their hearts, the core ensemble of Sicilian saxophonist/composer Bob Salmieri, vocalist Danyb, trumpeter Gianfranco Dezi, bassist Piero Pipiulucco, percussionist Carlo Colomo, guitarist Andrea Pullone and drummer Alfredo Romeo invited numerous guests for additional exotic colors. Amongst them are Pape Kanoute on the African kora harp; Jamal Ouassini on violin; Francesco Consaga on flutes and tenor sax; Andrea Alberti on grand piano, Papa Yery Samb on djembe and Andrea Rosatelli on electric bass. Add impromptu voice tracks culled from street immigrants of Bangladesh, Egypt, Colombia and the Philippines for "Terra Umlissimia" ("The Poorest Land", with the voices recounting the dreams and prayers of certain clandestines in the belly of cosmopolitan Rome) and the ingredients -- to the soundtrack of a movie that never was but in this group's fertile imagination -- line up to dance.

Sung in a mixture of Sicilian dialects and Turkish on "Tesekkur Arkadas", with the unusual juxtaposition of instruments and associated styles listed above, I Storie exudes visual elements of a road movie, with the same fluid progression of continuous welcomes and good-byes as a nomadic lifestyle would engender. Not structured like regular songs, the compositions turn into a hybrid kind of mood music. They become many-layered collages invoking settings and locales. Far more melodic than classic ambient, it's a nouveau sort of chamber music without the latter's associated formal structure. It's seemingly spontaneous enough to be improvised yet too complex and sure-footed to not be meticulously planned.

On "Ricardoa O Me Nomi", Kanoute's kora is given room to solo freely, as though jiving about home surrounded by instruments occasionally commenting. From behind a prayer invocation, Bob Salmieri's sax then imitates a reedy Turkish zurna, a muted trumpets delivers dry Jazz riffs, a male Silician voice reminisces over better rural times while a percolating, sinuously snake-charming rhythm weaves it all together. "Profughi" is a jazzy slow waltz, with a smoky sax/trumpet unison motif accompanied by piano, wistful female vocals interspersed with melancholy flute calls. Impressions shift between late-hour bar moods to North African outdoor scenes, acoustic instruments combine with subtle electronic keyboards. On "Thank you, friend", a Macedonian Gipsy brass motif morphs into breathy song with a first faintly Moroccan, then Middle-Eastern flavor. That is mirrored in the following "Rubaiyyat" with its Sufi flutes, wind shakers, hand percussion, bells and nasal clarinet before, with the entrance of a bluesy piano over darbuka trills, the tune turns into a very sophisticated, minimalist modern Jazz hybrid.

In short, I Storie à Café di lu Furestiero isn't so much music to be listened to as music to go daydreaming by. It's suggestive, amorphously open-ended - different stories and viewpoints meeting in the span of an hour in a fictitious place "somewhere in Europe". You image the sounds of clanking silverware, the gurgling of emptying bottles, the smells of spices while total strangers become momentary friends. Not at all a bad recipe to spend a relaxing hour with!