Curved Air - The Rarities Series Vol. 1 Tapestry Of Propositions album review

The song most definitely doesn’t remain the same

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Propositions first appeared on Curved Air’s 1970 debut album Air Conditioning, clocking in at a lean three minutes and four seconds. However, on stage the song has become a springboard for the band to jam out and this live album, collated from performances in 2013 and 2014, puts the spotlight squarely on the improvisation. It opens and closes with Proposition itself, but in-between are 15 different examples of Curved Air’s ability to find strange, dark alleys to explore away from the brightly lit boulevard of the song.

If the album has a progenitor in the annals of music, it might be Frank Zappa’s three Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar releases from 1981 which featured extended fretboard workouts from the maverick composer. There is plenty of room here for guitarist Kirby Gregory to stretch out, but equally some nights see violinist Paul Sax or keys player Robert Norton take the lead as they head off into the great uncharted wilderness. On the drums Florian Pilkington-Miksa has the limber adaptability of a jazz player but the volume and drive of a rocker. There is no attempt to hide or even really to smooth out the transitions between different performances which are identified by location – eg St Albums improv, Wolverhampton improv, and so on.

Once the band return to playing the head of the tune, the edit comes in and it’s back to the next round of sonic chaos. It’s a very raw listen – different locations produce very different acoustic environments. Sometimes the sound is close and punchy, other times it’s wide open.

Fans hungry to hear frontwoman Sonja Kristina may be disappointed by the brevity of her contribution – her singing bookends the album, but she’s entirely absent from the jam sessions. But if you dig improvisation, you’ve come to the right place.

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