Monday, June 29, 2015

Curved Air - 1995 - On Air Live at the BBC

Curved Air
On Air Live at the BBC

01. Vivaldi
02. Propositions/What Happens When You Blow Yourself Up?
03. It Happened Today
04. Young Mother in Style
05. Situations
06. Blind Man
07. Thinking on the Floor
08. Stretch
09. Stark Naked
10. Woman On a One Night Stand
11. Midnight Wire
12. Hot ‘N’ Bothered
13. The Fool

 - Sonja Kristina / vocals
- Darryl Way / violin, vocals
- Francis Monkman / guitar, keyboards (1-8)
- Robert Martin / bass (1-3)
- Florian Pilkington-Miska / drums (1-8)
- Ian Eyre / bass (4-8)
- Tony Reeves / bass (9-13)
- Mick Jacques / guitar (9-13)
- Stewart Copeland / drums (9-13)

The first session from the April of 1970 is yet bit tame, but the tracks breathe more freely than in the studio recordings. The version of “Vivaldi” is quite good. “Propositions” is performed well also — in this version, there’s a short lyrical passage in the end of the jam. This set ends with “It Happened Today”, with rock ‘n’ roll pianos, quite soft empathy for Sonja and an irritating fadeout.
“Young Mother in Style” is great, and comparing to the studio version, the lyrics are audible, and there aren’t any fadeouts. “Situations” is quite beautiful! In addition of the song “Blind Man” there’s also a second session done a few weeks later, featuring “Thinking on The Floor” and “Stretch”, which are decent performances.
The last session time warps to year 1976, where the band backing up Sonja has been mostly changed and also the musical style has ventured to a different direction. The instrumental opening is still energetic little in the style of the early days, but the rest of the songs are mostly more emotional and moody.

Curved Air - 1990 - Lovechild

Curved Air 

01. Exsultate Jubilate
02. Lovechild
03. Seasons
04. The Flasher
05. Joan
06. The Dancer
07. The Widow
08. Paris by Night

- Sonja Kristina / vocals, acoustic guitar
- Kirby Gregory / guitars, vocals
- Eddie Jobson / keyboards, violin, vocals
- Jim Russell / drums, percussion
- Mike Wedgwood / bass, acoustic guitar, vocals
- Florian Pilkington-Miksa / drums, percussion
- John O’Hara / keyboards

This album consists of 34 minutes of previously unreleased material recorded in 1972-73. The line up is essentially the one which recorded “Air Cut”, except that former member Florian Pilkington-Miksa returns on some of the tracks.
Eddie Jobson and Kirby Gregory had worked well together on “Air Cut”, but here they are far more distant and entrenched in their own preferences. The result is inevitably a pretty incoherent, but nonetheless enjoyable collection of songs.
The album is bound together with Sonja Kristina’s superbly distinctive vocals. When she sings in her angelic higher tones, such as on “The dancer”, the results are truly beautiful. When she adopts a deeper tone however (such as on “The widow”), she struggles more to remain in tune.
The title track sounds like an outtake from the “Air Cut ” album, it would certainly have been worthy of inclusion there, especially when combined with the brief symphonic opening track, “Exsultate jubilate”.
“Seasons” is a long slow power ballad with some good bluesy guitar work, but a single pace which continues on the Kirby led instrumental “The flasher”. There are echoes on 10CC on this track, it’s almost a slowed down version of their “How dare you”.
“Joan” which opens side two has a lovely piano intro which sounds remarkably like Yes’ intro to “Awaken”. This track had actually been recorded some three years earlier. “Paris by night” gives Jobson centre stage for the closing track, which is rather uninspired repetitive piano piece.
During the sessions for this album, the group broke up and the tapes went into a vault. Eddie Jobson joined Roxy Music and then went on to form UK and then to play with Jethro Tull and Frank Zappa. Mike Wedgewood joined Caravan.

Curved Air - 1976 - Airborne

Curved Air

01. Desiree (3:12)
02. Kids To Blame (3:19)
03. Broken Lady (3:13)
04. Juno (3:23)
05. Touch Of Tequila (3:49)
06. Moonshine (11:36)
07. Heaven (Never Semmed So Far Away) (3:18)
08. Hot And Bothered (2:53)
09. Dazed (4:17)
10. Baby Please Don’t Go (Bonus) (2:31)

 - Stewart Copeland / drums
- Mick Jacques / guitars
- Sonja Kristina / vocals
- Tony Reeves / bass
- Darryl Way / violin, keyboards, vocals

While “Airborne” (released in 1976) represents the declining years in terms of Curved Air’s success and popularity, it does have some historical significance as it was the band’s last official studio album. “Airborne” is also notable as Stewart Copeland, who went on to find superstardom as drummer with the Police, plays “heavy artillery” (i.e. drums) here. He had already appeared on Curved Air’s “Midnight wire” album, which was released just after the reunion of (most of) the original line up for “Curved Air live”. From that re-union, violinist Daryl Way remained in the band, the line up for “Airborne” being completed by guitarist Mick Jacques, and Tony Reeves on bass.
Copeland, who had recently married lead singer Sonja Kristina, participated in the song writing for the first time when he co-wrote the music for the opening track, “Desiree” (which was released as a single) along with Jacques, and the co-wrote lyrics with his new wife.
The three Daryl Way tracks are the eye catchers here, in particular “Moonshine”. This track stands head an shoulders above the other songs on the album, especially in prog terms. While not quite as appealing as previous Curved Air masterpieces such as “Vivaldi” (“Air conditioning”), or “Metamorphosis” (“Air cut”), “Moonshine”, which runs to about 10 minutes, is an impressive piece of work. The pace and mood of the track change regularly throughout, moving from soft delicate passages, to virtuoso violin by Way, and some fine symphonic keyboards. At times, there are echoes of Gentle Giant among others.
The rest of the tracks effectively play a supporting role. Side one consists of five short numbers. “Desiree”, is a pop-rock opener, which features multi-tracked vocals by Sonja Kristina, and some decent, if brief, lead guitar. Quite why the band felt the need to multi-track Kristina’s voice is something of a mystery, but it is a sound which features on several of the tracks here. Copeland’s composition “Kids to blame” is a fairly innocuous piece of pop rock, but he took it with him to The Police, where it featured in their live act.
The closing track on side one, “Touch of Tequila”, is the antithesis of “Moonshine”, being a dreadful pop influenced song, which sees Kristina sounding a bit too like Irish Eurovision star Dana!
There are a couple of decent ballads, “Broken lady”, co-written by Sonja Kristina, and Daryl Way’s lullaby “Dazed”, which closes the album.
“Airborne” is an album of peaks and troughs, ranging from the excellent prog of “Moonshine” to the disastrous pop of “Touch of Tequila”. In all though, a worthwhile effort, which will, in the main, please fans of the band.

Curved Air - 1975 - Midnight Wire

Curved Air
Midnight Wire

01. Woman On a One Night Stand (5:06)
02. Day Breaks My Heart (4:38)
03. The Fool (4:27)
04. Pipe of Dreams (3:58)
05. Orange Street Blues (5:01)
06. Dance of Love (4:36)
07. Midnight Wire (7:32)

- Sonja Kristina / vocals
- Darryl Way / violin, keyboards, vocals
- Stewart Copeland / drums
- Mick Jacques / guitars
- John Perry / bass
- Peter Wood / keyboards
- Derek Damain / backing vocals
- Norma Tager / lyrics

The remaining members Sonja Kristina and Darryl Way recruited Sonja’s partner and future husband Stewart Copeland (later of Police) and Mick Jacques for the 1975 album, “Midnight Wire”.
The album focuses its mood on humbleness rather than blaring flashiness and on soft passion rather than obvious passion. What they try to construct here is an interesting and, indeed, unique brand of luscious, deeply erotic “dream-pop”, based on romantic guitar/violin interplay (where “romantic” doesn’t necessarily mean “happy sappy” – there are plenty of passages on here that rock quite heavily, yet without descending into true arena-rock/power-ballad territory) and those irresistable libido-raising vocals from Sonja Kristina.
The mild seduction of ‘Dance Of Love’ is simply irresistable, featuring Sonja cooing out ‘take my body with your soul’. The vocal melody is darn catchy, not to mention a trembling violin solo from Darryl Way.
On a couple of tracks it almost seems like Kristina wants to be Janis Joplin; particularly on the opener, ‘Woman On A One Night Stand’, a full-fledged R’n'B number with hyper-expressive vocals and intricate soul-electrifying chord changes that perfectly illustrate the supposed turmoil within her.
The slow and relaxed ballad “Day Breaks My Heart” is outwardly sad and mourning, yet inwardly a testament to the fact that there is a reason that a heart can be broken. The instrumental “Pipe of Dreams” is rather trippy and dreamy. The title track “Midnight Wire”, a 7 minute epic of intense emotion — dark, powerful, tragic, intense, soft.
There are also the punchier tunes, like ‘The Fool’, built around a pretty violin riff and at times almost developing into a convoluted kind of jig, or ‘Orange Street Blues’, where Sonja contemplates about having sex with a loser and ultimately rejects that possibility (or so it seems).

Curved Air - 1974 - Live

Curved Air

01. It Happened Today (5:25)
02. Marie Antoinette (6:45)
03. Back Street Luv (3:43)
04. Propositions (7:42)
05. Young Mother (8:56)
06. Vivaldi (9:00)
07. Everdance (5:36)

 - Sonja Kristina / vocals
- Darryl Way / violin, keyboards, vocals
- Francis Monkman / lead guitar, organ, synthesizer
- Florian Pilkington-Miksa / percussion
- Philip Kohn / bass guitar

The original line-up of Curved Air, except bass player Robert Martin who was replaced by Phil Kohn, had problems with an unpaid tax bill, leading to them reforming for a three week tour of the UK, during which this album was recorded.
With all the line-up turmoils, it would be forgivable if the performances on this album were less than perfect. In fact “Live” stands as a worthy testimony to their unquestionable talents, with many fine moments.
The selections are taken from their early albums, “Air conditioning”, “Second album” and “Phantasmagoria”, with “Air cut” being ignored completely, presumably since it was recorded by an almost completely different line up. The opening tracks, “It happened today” and “Marie Antoinette” are pretty faithful to the originals, although Sonja Kristina does seem somewhat over-excited, replacing the smooth multi-tracked vocals of the latter with a far more aggressive performance.
The latter part of the album is more improvisational, with both “Propositions” and “Young mother” being enhanced by lengthy instrumental workouts. Way and Monkman both enjoy considerable freedom on these tracks to let loose with extended performances. The wonderful Darryl Way epic “Vivaldi” is taken for a nine minute romp which includes the “Sailor’s hornpipe” (per “Tubular bells”), and some extended violin virtuosity. Kristina, who would otherwise be unemployed for this piece, misguidedly decides to add some vocal improvisation, but this is more than compensated for by the synthesiser and synthesised sounds.
The closing “Everdance” finds Kristina still rather over-doing the vocal pyrotechnics, the track otherwise being a faithful recreation of the original with a brief reprise of “Vivaldi” to close.
In terms of live albums, “Curved Air” live captures the essence of the band in that environment well. The talent on show is undeniable and the chemistry they create together palpable.
The reunion was short lived though, with Francis Monkman and Florian Pilkington Miska leaving again immediately afterwards. Kohn left in 1975.

Curved Air - 1973 - Air Cut

Curved Air 
Air Cut

01. The Purple Speed Queen (3:23)
02. Elfin Boy (4:26)
03. Metamorphosis (10:40)
04. World (1:37)
05. Armin (3:50)
06. U.H.F. (8:55)
07. Two-Three-Two (4:16)
08. Easy (6:40)

- Kirby Gregory / guitars, vocals
- Eddie Jobson / keyboards, violin, vocals
- Sonja Kristina / vocals, acoustic guitar
- Jim Russell / drums, percussion
- Mike Wedgwood / bass, acoustic guitar, vocals

With Daryl Way and Francis Monkman no longer in the band, Sonja Kristina, whose distinctive voice is one of the band’s strongest trademarks, was the only original member left. She continued however to surround herself with highly competent musicians, including the multi-talented Eddie Jobson. The other Curved Air trademark, the violin of Way was mainly replaced by keyboards, with Jobson only reverting to violin on a couple of tracks.
“Purple speed queen” is a storming opener, with a great synthesiser solo in the Rick Wakeman vein. “Elfin Boy” follows on much more softly, Kristina’s voice never sounded more haunting than it does here. The track is a real weepy, with beautifully sympathetic violin accompaniment. “Graceful his fingers, they waltz on the strings, gentle the song that he sings”, as the lyrics go.
The third track ”Metamorphosis” starts with almost classical piano, builds and softens, quickens and slows. Sonja’s vocals vary from the almost child like, to seductive temptress. They combine with some really infectious themes and great instrumental work for over 10 minutes, to make for a real progressive classic.
Kristina takes something of a back seat on side 2, with an instrumental track, and a rare (for Curved Air) male vocal lead on “Two three two”. The feature track on side 2 is however the longer final song, “Easy”. For want of a better description, this is a progressive power ballad. Once again, the track has superb keyboards including an excellent instrumental break, and Kristina on top form vocally.
If all Curved Air means to you is the full frontal nudity of the cover of their first album, plus variations on “Vivaldi”, this album will open up a whole new dimension for you.

Curved Air - 1971 - Second Album

Curved Air 
Second Album

01. Young Mother (5:55)
02. Back Street Luv (3:38)
03. Jumbo (4:11)
04. You Know (4:11)
05. Puppets (5:26)
06. Everdance (3:08)
07. Bright Summer’s Day 68 (2:54)
08. Piece of Mind (12:52)

 - Sonja Christina / vocals
- Darryl Way / vocal, piano, vocals
- Francis Monkman / guitar, keyboards
- Ian Eyre / bass
- Florian Pilkington Miksa / drums

Curved Air’s “Second Album” (what an imaginative title!) was even better than the debut but it also demonstrated the tensions between the two songwriters in the band, Darryl Way and keyboard-player Francis Monkman. All of Way’s compositions were on side one of the album, while Monkman’s was on the second side.
As a whole, the album is lighter than their debut with the exception of the 13 minute “Piece of Mind”. This is a rather elongated piece, based around what might otherwise have been a good 5-6 minute song. Kristina certainly gives a fine vocal performance, the tumbling fast singing sections being particularly striking. The track moves through rather jazzy piano and some distinctive brass. There is some goods synth too, but the overall impression is of a track being stretched beyond its natural length.
Of the other tracks, “Jumbo” is a lovely violin dominated ballad which might have made for a successful single. The title is perhaps a bit unfortunate, conjuring images of elephants rather than the intended aeroplanes and their romantic “flying me home” connotation. “Puppets” is another ballad, with a sparse backing to high delicate vocals.
“Young mother” has an almost early Genesis like sound at times, but the sharing of the main melody by vocals and violin gives the track an intriguingly different feel. On the down side, “You know” is an average pop track on the lines of “Stretch” from their first album. “Bright summer’s day ‘68” is a short throwaway song with strange, shouted and distorted vocals.
This is a decent “second” album by the band, which relies less on the violin and more on the keyboards.

Curved Air - 1970 - Air Conditioning

Curved Air 
Air Conditioning

01. It Happened Today (4:55)
02. Stretch (4:05)
03. Screw (4:03)
04. Blind Man (3:32)
05. Vivaldi (7:26)
06. Hide and Seek (6:15)
07. Propositions (3:04)
08. Rob One (3:22)
09. Situations (6:17)
10. Vivaldi with Cannons (1:35)
- Sonja Kristina / lead vocal
- Darryl Way / electric violin, vocal
- Francis Monkman / lead guitar, organ, piano, Mellotron, electric Harpsicord, special effects equipement and VCS3 synthesizer
- Robert Martin / bass guitar
- Florian Pilkington-Miksa / drums

Fronted by the excellent female-vocals of Sonja Kristina and the classical influenced violin playing by Darryl Way, Curved Air sounded like no other progressive band. This was their debut-album and it’s also a historical album because it was history’s first LP-sized picture disc! Musically it was also a successful debut stuffed with good material and the classic Curved Air sound. Even their bastardization of Vivaldi makes some quite entertaining listening. The opening track “It Happened Today” shows many sides of Curved Air’s music. A rocking and catchy vocal-part that gets relieved by a beautiful and atmospheric violin part. The instrumental “Rob One” is another fine example of Way’s excellent and emotional playing. Other great tracks include the sinister “Screw”, the light and nice acoustic piece “Blind Man”, the dark “Situations” and “Hide and Seek”. You also get a non-progressive but excellent rock track in “Stretch”. Overall a very good debut-album, but even better things was still to come!

Curved Air - 1972 - Phantasmagoria

Curved Air

01. Marie Antoinette (6:20)
02. Melinda (More or Less) (3:25)
03. Not quite the Same (3:44)
04. Cheetah (3:33)
05. Ultra-Vivaldi (2:22)
06. Phantasmagoria (3:15)
07. Whose Shoulder are You Looking Over Anyway? (3:24)
08. Over and Above (8:36)
09. One a Ghost, Always a Ghost (4:25)

 - Sonja Kristina / vocals, acoustic guitar
- Francis Monkman / guitars, keyboards, Tubular Bells, Gong, percussion
- Florian Pilkington-Miksa / drums, percussion
- Darryl Way / violin, keyboards, vocals, Tubular Bells, Mellotron on “Marie Antoinette”
- Mike Wedgwood / bass, acoustic guitar, vocals

The sound of Sonja Kristina’s heavily accented vocals singing “Fire in their hands/Steel in their eyes, they rise chanting “Revolution, Vive le Nation!” remains my abiding memory of Curved Air’s outstanding album Phantasmagoria. This follow-up to The Second Album, which spawned a great single Back Street Luv, contains many of Curved Air’s finest compositions and most progressive moments. I heartily recommend it.
Of course, the bloodthirsty, (ahem) majestic Marie Antoinette is one of those essential art-rock songs, with rollicking piano, chants, fuzz guitar from Francis Monkman and eerie synths from Darryl Way, and Sonja Kristina presiding over it all. The beautiful folk ballad Melinda (More Or Less) is also unforgettable. With Kristina on acoustic guitar (let’s not forget that this former folkie initially replaced Sandy Denny in The Strawbs!), Way’s violin, Monkman’s harpsichord, Mike Wedgwood’s understated bass and a notable guest flute appearance from one Annie Stewart, also succeed in transporting listeners back a couple of centuries.
As great as both songs are, neither is the album-defining classic, an honour that belongs to Monkman’s classic Over And Above. Outstanding moments abound in this song that resembles some of the work that Annie Haslam and Renaissance would craft in subsequent years. A swirling, multi-dimensional mini-epic, it’s fuelled by astounding guest performances from vibraphonists/xylophonists Crispian Steel-Perkins, Paul Cosh and Jim Watson and also features stellar contributions from Way and Monkman, both with an otherworldly synth solo and some earthier wah-wah guitar (which is largely absent on this record) to close off the piece. With symphonic dashes, jazzy runs and even the yet-to-be-sacred tubular bells, it is arguably the most progressive song Curved Air ever recorded.
The rest of the album is not quite in the same league as this masterpiece, but is generally very strong. Not Quite The Same begins with medieval brassy sounds before evolving into a bouncy folk-jazz with a melancholic chorus, and an unusual Canterbury- influenced synth solo (both Way and Monkman play synth on this one). Cheetah is an upbeat Darryl Way instrumental sees him starring on violin, with just enough unpredictable changes to keep the piece fresh. The title track is another one of those eerie, theatrical Curved Air cuts, although I don’t really like the chorus.
The one real downer is Ultra-Vivaldi, a speed up sequenced version of a song that has already been performed twice before by the group on Air Conditioning). The sequencer idea may have seemed worthwhile back in 1972, but it really stinks now. Of the three Curved Air Vivaldi pieces (Vivaldi, Vivaldi With Cannons and Ultra-Vivaldi) the original Vivaldi track is the only one I consider worth listening to. Luckily the damage is over in just 1:24! Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway? is another experiment that sounds cool but ain’t entirely convincing. The track consists of Kristina vocal tracks fed through a “PDP8/L computer and a Synthi 100 Synthesizer”, and it’s all edited to create a ghostly atmosphere. It’s not as tacky as Ultra-Vivaldi, but does go some way towards making the album feel dated.
The totally wild, unpredictable feel of the album is emphasized by the concluding track Once A Ghost, Always A Ghost, a strange brassy cabaret song that isn’t a personal favourite, but does end the album on an offbeat, yet stimulating note, thanks in part to another incredible vibraphone solo. You have to give this album and its creators marks for not resting on the laurels of the previous year’s hit single, and going on to craft a daring album despite the increasing friction that developed between the group’s two main songwriters.
Unfortunately, the band imploded after this excellent album, losing both Way and Monkman … and things were never the same. But should you ever need to convince anyone of Curved Air’s greatness, kindly direct them here. This is something else.