Formed in 1970 and taking their name from a Terry Riley album title, Curved Air were one of the foundational groups of UK prog. Co-founded by violinist Darryl Way and guitarist/keyboard player Francis Monkman, they quickly signed up folk singer Sonja Kristina, who would go on to be a constant in the group as they underwent numerous line-up changes.
Their use of violin as a lead instrument would have made them quite startling in 1970. On It Happened Today, the opener of Air Conditioning (8⁄10), it announces itself mid-song, creating a fresh opening. This, coupled with Kristina’s eerie vibrato, especially on the chorus, established Curved Air as a group venturing into forest areas British rock had not explored before. Alternative versions of It Happened Today and others on Air Conditioning’s bonus disc, taken from BBC sessions, show why the group were considered to be a hot property. The dappled Blind Man and apocalyptic Hide And Seek are arresting, as is Proposition, an attempt to emulate the minimalist, static-but-shifting, layered intensity of their inspiration Riley. It’s a potentially exciting new direction for 70s rock that you wish they had explored a little more. Only Vivaldi, reprised with cannons, is a little silly, with its misconceived measurement of rock against classical music and aspirations to graduate to the same status – the great category error of the early 70s.
By 1973, Monkman and Way had left and versatile teenage prodigy Eddie Jobson had been brought in on keyboards and violin. Air Cut (6⁄10) vacillates between heavy rock like The Purple Speed Queen and U.H.F which seem to militate against Kristina’s vocal style, and more contemplative pieces such as the lengthy Metamorphosis, which from its grand piano opening onwards feels like a prog vehicle for Jobson to demonstrate his keyboard skills, ranging up hill and down dale on a Mellotron odyssey. He also plays violin on World, which is a touch Remember You’re A Womble.
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The group were dropped, and disbanded in the mid-70s, but have returned again and again in various permutations, forever hinting at what they might have achieved had they been able to maintain more stability and continuity.