Think of Curved Air and two words (well, names) spring immediately to mind: Sonja and Kristina. The concept of a Curved Air album without the High Priestess Of Etherealness is unimaginable, isn’t it, luv? No longer. Step forward Curved Space & Infinity – Rarities Volume Two, which does not feature Ms Kristina in any way, shape or form at all. Have they never heard of the Trades Description Act? This is like buying a pack of Jammie Dodgers and opening it to discover a pile of dry, unappetising Dodgers, delicious sticky centres mysteriously vaporised. (Although to be fair we should mention that Sonja has given her blessing for this to be released under the Curved Air banner.)
What we have here is are two CDs, the first of which is dominated by the presence of guitarist Francis Monkman. It comprises 1990s recordings involving Monkman, drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa (drums), Mike Gore (guitar) and Rob Martin (bass), and all bar one of the tracks – closing number, the 14-minute Rose – were previously available on Monkman’s solo album, Jam. The clue is very much in the title. Packed to the gills with beardy freakout improv, tracks such as Towards Tomorrow and Baghdad Cafe Medley are rambling, jazzy space rock hybrids of Hawkwind and Chick Corea’s Return To Forever, with a soupçon of Earthless thrown in for good measure. The quality of the playing is undeniably mightily impressive but my god does Disc One go on… and on.
There are occasional lapses – the short, sharp stab of heaviosity that is Harp Riff could have been recorded at London’s old UFO Club back in 1969 – but epic head-nodding muso-fests are the order of the day, by and large. Disc Two features new 2016 recordings by Pilkington-Miksa, Kirby Gregory (guitar) and Robert Norton (keyboards), and has a less trippy, more organic feel. But again the focus – if that is not a contradiction in terms – is on winging it and going with the flow. This is Curved Air, bent out of shape.