Curved Air – Air Waves (2012)

Featuring eight live tracks recorded by Curved Air’s initial incarnation for the BBC in 1970-71, and then five more from a 1976 lineup that featured Stewart Copeland, Air Waves is an opportunity to examine both eras of this underrated prog-rock group.

Ultimately, those showcases with the Police’s future drummer prove to be the most fascinating, as Curved Air expanded from its initial distinctly English prog influences into hard rock and R&B stylings. Sonja Kristina’s vocal presence had changed, too, from a more florid combination of folk and classical styles to this tough psychedelia that’s now associated with the likes of Grace Slick — in particular on “Woman on a One Night Stand.”

“Stark Naked,” the opening track from a 1976 date recorded for the BBC at the Paris Theatre in London, is a galloping wonder, episodic and much more visceral than anything that came before. (This remains the only recorded version of the track.) “Midnight Wire,” a searching ballad, then gives way to a rambunctious funk number called “Hot ‘n’ Bothered,” and Kristina’s primal howl soars into early Heart territory. Check out the way Mick Jacques, who by then had replaced Francis Monkman on guitar, adds a rough-hewn crunch to Darryl Way’s fiddle freakout, too. Finally, there’s “The Fool,” which starts out sounding something like a hoedown, before morphing into a lumbering heavy-metal blooze — the bulk of credit for which, no doubt, goes to their new drummer, then just 22 years old.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: A frank new documentary on the Police overseen by guitarist Andy Summers follows the band’s meteoric rise, angry breakup and long-waited-for reunion — presented warts and all.]

Four decades on, Curved Air continues — with Kristina, original drummer Florian Pilkington Miksa, and others. A new album, in fact, is set for release in 2013. If this year’s Live Atmosphere is any indication, that project will likely sound more like the earliest cuts here — since the 2012 concert document found this new lineup focusing so squarely on the pre-Copeland recordings.

“It Happened Today,” bolstered by these billowing outbursts from Way’s electric violin, sets that initial template on Air Waves — due November 27, 2013 via Cleopatra Records. Of course, the question remains: What exactly would you call this? Classical meets space rock? Even without Copeland, they are blissfully difficult to pin down.

Curved Air goes on to perform a combination of “Propositions” and “What Happens When You Blow Yourself Up,” and then “Vivaldi” during these 1970 radio sessions. Nearly a year later they return to the BBC for five more cuts recorded in January and March of 1971 — the best of which is undoubtedly the stomping, nearly unhinged “Stretch.” By this point, of course, Curved Air had signed with Warners, issued the debut Airconditioning, and gone on tour with Black Sabbath.

Other interesting early moments include an early sketch of “Young Mother,” which would eventually appear on Curved Air’s Second Album; and “Thinking on the Floor,” which was also never recorded in the studio.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.