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The Winstons - Pictures At An Exhibition CD (album) cover

PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION

The Winstons

 

Canterbury Scene

3.89 | 8 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Italian group The Winstons made an instant splash with their 2016 self-titled debut, a thrilling disc that seemed to come out of nowhere and sounded like the greatest Canterbury pop album never actually released in the Sixties or Seventies, and one that complimented the first two Soft Machine albums beautifully too. The trio - Lino Gitto, Roberto Dell'Era and Enrico Gabrielli - have kept fans waiting for a proper follow-up, although a cool DVD `Live in Rome' popped up soon after, but that stalling continues with another new live release in 2018, one that actually predates the original LP and first DVD by originating from a 2015 concert performance! What exactly are these screwy time-travelling loons up to?!

Mussorgsky's classical suite `Pictures at an Exhibition' has most famously been adapted in prog-rock circles by (among others) electronic composer Isao Tomita and legendary symphonic innovators Emerson, Lake & Palmer at the start of the Seventies, but here the modern Italian group ambitiously approach it in their own unexpected way, alongside collaborators Roberto De Gennaro on vibraphone/percussion and violinist Roberto Izzo. It's quite a departure from the spiky psychedelic colour and fuzzy playing that would appear on their debut, but their other musical guests here add a gentle experimental avant-garde flavour, and it makes for a curious reimagining of the original piano compositions.

Looking at some of the highlights, opening theme `Promenade' is given a sedate then defiant violin and piano presentation, but quickly the tiniest of little psychedelic tinges start to creep in, and within seconds `The Gnome' is battered by runaway electric piano and murky fuzz organ, maddening vibraphone and endlessly rambunctious drumming storms. The short `Lead Me from Tortured Dreams' vocal passage is given a charmingly accented reading, a shimmering and dreamy melancholy drifts through `Il Vecchio Castello' and `Bydło' pounds with a stalking malevolence. `Ballet of Unhatched Chicks' quickly turns mischievous and playful, `Samuel Goldenberg und Schmu'le' is a loopy mix of scratchy violin, percolating keys and manic vibraphone tinkling, and `Limoges, le March' (La Grande Nouvelle)' prances with searing violin slivers.

`Catacomb' (Sepulcrum Romanum)' bristles with staccato organ and violin stabs, `Promenade (Allegro Giusto)' is a glistening dream-like lullaby and the strident and up-tempo `The Hut of Baba Yaga' brings a touch of psych by attacking with manic piano races, stuttering fuzzed-out bass and thrashing drums. Final reprise `The Great Gates of Kiev' proves the most surprising moment - after a roaring defiant farewell vocal, with band launch into cooing soft harmonies and then drift into an effortlessly cool Canterbury-flecked chilled psych jam, but sadly it's only brief yet very teasingly hints at some of the direction the band would head into on their first album.

This is a very curious release for the trio. It's not the psych-rock blowout we next wanted to hear from them, and oddly their performance even sounds far more subdued than the toughness and noise of ELP's more well-known version. That surprise aside, they've swapped it with an elegant and deeply atmospheric sensibility that proves very dignified and thoughtful without ever becoming a stuffy and lifeless mere classical interpretation. It's only disappointing from the perspective of perhaps the expectation that they would have attacked the piece with a frantic and looser psych-rock approach.

`Pictures at an Exhibition' can hardly be considered an essential Winstons release, but perhaps it can be looked on as just another fascinating fragment of their musical minds that might even possibly infiltrate into other corners of their sound in the future, assuming that much-craved second album does eventually show up!

Three stars for Winstons fans, but really, anything other than four stars for the talent on display here would be grossly insulting.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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