Ezra Winston - Ancient Afternoons

Year of Release: 2000
Label: Rock Symphony
Catalog Number: RSLN053
Format: CD
Total Time: 55:36:00

At Progfest this past September I was quite excited to see that Ezra Winston's [1990 album] Ancient Afternoons had finally been released on CD. There it sat on display at the Rock Symphony table, but when asked about it, I was told it wouldn't be available for sale until that Sunday - the day of the CD convention. Disappointed, but hopeful, to the convention I went, and to the Rock Symphony table. And now I have this wonderful CD in my hands. I had been familiar with the first track on the album, "The Painter And The King," from an MP3 I downloaded from the Ezra Winston website. Later the band sent me a sampler of tracks from all their albums (see review) as they were preparing their re-releases. This is the first of those to see the light (I believe).

The packaging on this is beautiful. A multi-gatefold sleeve with the lyrics in script on one side, the stories (or narration) for the tracks on the other, along with the credits and production notes. The whole design, layout, typographic, colour scheme - everything - says class and that they took time and care in bringing this to a whole new audience.

Musically this album is quite stunning - beautifully symphonic ... just simply extraordinary. Why? Oh everything about it, the brass, the guitar, the drums and percussion, the arrangements, the warmth of both the instrumentation and of Mauro Di Donato's voice, which is often understated. In fact, Di Donato's voice serves more as an additional instrument than as the focus that the music is supporting, as in the first movement of "Verge Of Suicide," he is singing harmony with the flute of Paolo Lucini. Di Donato has such a breathy, ethereal way of singing, though on the balance this album is mostly instrumental. Galadriel's vocalist Jes?s Filardi does the same thing, at least on Muttered Promises From An Ageless Pond.

I've already discussed "The Painter And The King," but I'll say it again. The track opens with a playful flute intro that is answered by the full band (where the flute is the "painter" and the band is the "king.") There is a very medieval feel to the musical phrase that also sounds very royal - you can almost see the trumpeters on ramparts, their horns lifted to the sky, as a brisk wind whips the standards furiously. Later in the track, during "The Sentence," there is a stunning sax solo that oozes so much warmth and drama. The music here is dark, ominous, and yet captivating ... of course, the percussive maelstrom that is "Execution" is far, far darker in feel, if lighter in tone. To encapsulate this entire track is difficult as it is so textured and varied. It is subdivided into five parts: "I. The Arrival of the Painter," "II. Nightmare," "III. The Sentence," "IV. Execution," and "V. Over the Candlelight." With the benefit of this re-release, the tale behind the song is that the king is seeking to commission a painter to paint a fresco in his Throne Hall. The king, who has not been allowed to see the work in progress, begins to have nightmares of those he has killed...and when the finished fresco is finished and revealed, it is the same faces from his nightmare. He sentences the painter to death and orders the fresco destroyed and removed...but...instead the painter leads the dead of the king's nightmare and has joined the others on the fresco.

There are some beautiful classical moments during "Ancient Afternoon of an Unknown Town," for example, the centerpiece track at 26 minutes. This leads into an acoustic passage which morphs into a more contemporary instrumental style passage with acoustic guitar, flute and gentle percussion. This song is all over map stylistically and yet it all holds together, moving seamlessly between movements - one minute pastoral, the next rocking, the next atmospheric. There are points that make ever so subtle references to ELP, as there are some keyboard parts that approach Emerson without ever quite quoting or even imitating him - just a slight similarity of tone and style. And there is a bit of guitar staccato that has been used by many a prog guitarist... when I reviewed this for the sampler, I noted that the track had a slight Marillion guitar-thing going for it - staccato notes played with resonate tone (in "shorthand" - Rothery-esque). This is a very dark track, full of dark swirling keys, and sonic effects...in a way, it's rather chilling, evoking images of dark, overcast skies - at least for part of it (there is a trumpet tone used here that made me think of Herb Alpert, too). The eighth movement is atmospheric as hell. The track opens and closes with the warm brass tones of guest musicians on trumpets, trombones, tuba, oboe, and other horns.

The story that is the basis of "Verge Of Suicide" isn't immediately clear as to what the message is, though it seems to be the antithesis of the "Emperor's New Clothes." Le Orme's Aldo Tagliapietra guests on vocals and bass on "Nightstorm." Here the vocals are a bit more up in the mix than elsewhere, perhaps owing more to Tagliapietra's style than anything.

The bonus track is the previously unreleased "Shades Of Grey (As The Obscurred Side Of The D.A.)," which was recorded in 1996, just prior to when work on this reissue began. Cristina Santoni sings harmony here with Di Donato, and Gianni Colaiacomo (ex-Banco) contributes bass. I'm guessing that the "D.A." refers to the title character in "Dark Angel Suite," which was a track featured on the Musea sampler Seven Days In A Life. But I'm not sure. Like "Dark Angel Suite" though, this has a slight "neo-prog" feel to it at times, but not quite. Trilling flutes give way to crisp percussion and shimmering guitar - there is a dreamy expansiveness to the first part of the arrangement.

While I don't have any "favourite" tracks - all fit that category - there are some sections I'm especially fond of: the intro to "Painter," the third part to "Ancient Afternoon..." called "Interlude (on the March)," but also the first segment, "Prelude," the whole "The Dragon and The Ruby Of Kos" section of "Ancient Afternoon..." and so many others

Also released by Musea Records (FGBG 4360)

The Painter And The King (10:05) - I. The Arrival Of The Painter II. Nightmare III. The Sentence IV Execution V Over The Candle-light / Verge Of Suicide (9:04) I. The Bus-Stop II. Indifference III. Watchman Of The Glass Menagerie IV. The Choice / Night-Storm (6:07) / Ancient Afternoon Of An Unknown Town (26:05) I. Prelude II. Magician's Words III. Interlude (on the March) IV. Glares V. Mountains Of Munis: VI. The Ambush and The Battle VII. Interlude (Night On Munis) VIII. The Dragon And The Ruby Of Kos IX. Postlude / Shades Of Grey (4:15)

Mauro Di Donato - synths, samplers, electric piano, bass and contra bass, acoustic and classical guitars (4), lead and backing vocals
Fabio Palmieri - electric, acoustic, classical and 12-string guitars
Paolo Lucini - flute, piccolo, tenor and soprano saxes, noise, wind synth
Daniele Iacono - acoustic and electric drums, percussion, noise
Aldo Tagliapietra - bass and vocals (3)
Cristina Santoni - dark siren's choirs (5)
Steve Pontani - electric guitars and loops (5)
Gianni Colaiacomo - bass (5)
Francesco Berluti, Tony Saltz - trumpets
Giancarlo Berluti, Giovanni Giuliano, Domenico Sebastiani - horns
Salvatore Sanseli, Francesco Scalone - trombones
Augusto Mentuccia - tuba
Tommaso Guidi - oboe

Myth of Chrysavidas (1988)
Ancient Afternoons (1990/2000)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin IT

Added: October 1st 2000
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.ezrawinston.com
Hits: 1453
Language: english


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