Curved Air were a pioneering British progressive rock group, formed in 1970. Their music was eclectic, offering an inventive blend of melodic symphonic prog (with typical classical influences), enriched with doses of folk and psychedelica (Ă* la Jefferson Airplane), and even harder-edged rock, especially on Air Cut
. The bandâ€™s main signatures are their unusual combination of instruments (a wide variety of synthesizers, electric violin, flute and trumpet) and Sonja Linwoodâ€™s crystal clear vocals. The dynamic and seductively ethereal Linwood was, same as Renaissancesâ€™ Annie Haslam, hailed as one of the queens of prog, both being pioneers of female-fronted rock. Much like Haslam, her distinctive voice is one of the bandâ€™s strong points. While there are evident comparisons to be made between Curved Air and Renaissance, especially concerning their classical influences, Curved Air were louder and meaner, never afraid of using a gruff distorted electric guitar or a dirty synthesizer tone. The bandâ€™s sarcastic and often smutty lyrics were also a far cry from Renaissanceâ€™ shining white angelic bliss.
is their fourth album, and features tighter, more powerful and less experimental compositions than their earlier works. Most fans did not believe in the band without violinist Darryl Way and keyboardist Francis Monkman, and so Air Cut
was not too warmly welcomed by critics and the public at the time. The record strays from the type of music established during the Monkman/Way era, which was more folk-oriented. While Way had strong classical leanings, his successor Eddie Jobson was more on the rock side of the equation, which is one reason why Air Cut
is so appealing and entertaining (regardless of what elitists might think). It also sounds more like a full album, rather than as a collection of songs, contrary to their first two LPâ€™s: varied, yet consistent.
After several conflicts within the band regarding their musical direction, Linwood and bassist Mike Wedgwood were the only members left for the recording sessions. They however continued to surround themselves with highly competent musicians, and the newcomers managed to bring a refreshing energy and effective musical ideas to the refurbished Curved Air. The enthusiasm of Linwoodâ€™s singing is clear proof of a permanent sense of purpose and faith within the band's ranks, despite the uncertainty of the moment.
The ultimate revelation is the aforementioned Eddie Jobson, who came to the fore with classically-influenced piano, soaring synthesizers and heavy organ sounds, managing to add multi-coloured textures and vibrancy to the groupâ€™s music. At only age seventeen, he could already be placed next to the very best keyboard exponents of the era; his performance on the grand piano gives Emerson and Wakeman a run for their money. In time, the new line-up could have been filled with promise, but this was not meant to be. After Jobson left for Roxy Music as replacement of Brian Eno (later moving on to Jethro Tull and U.K.), Curved Air would never again be able to match Air Cut
's extremely high standards, which was a pity, as this album shows they definitely were running through a success trail. Soon after, guitarist Kirby Gregory joined a bogus Fleetwood Mac, and Wedgwood would find his way to Caravan.
Jobson's violin skills are well demonstrated by the stunning instrumental Armin
, which sees all the instruments interweave seamlessly to create a dynamic bravura piece. The fluid convergence among the musicians is so solid that it is unbelievable that the line-up came to exist in a moment of crisis for the band. U.H.F.
is another highlight, a fun, quick-paced song with lots of creative heavy guitar riffs and a sense of urgency in Linwoodâ€™s vocals; it changes into a slower song with some intricate time signature changes and very well executed guitars.
is worth the price of admission alone. It's a lengthy ten minutes of prog epicness: gorgeous grand piano flourishes during the intro, then a change of mood with marching percussion and grinding organ, augmented by Jim Russell's percussions and Wedgwood's loud bass lines. Closer Easy
is on the harder side, even if it features some fine piano parts. The harmonies toward the end are incredible, and the overall feel is emotional, the lyrics focusing on a break-up; the short keyboard solo at the end and the passage building up to it, leading into the solo and then the repetition of the chorus that follows, is one of the more magical moments of Air Cut
are somewhat trivial, neither bad nor unpleasant, but unfortunately not adding anything special to the album's repertoire. Overall though, the greater moments are predominant and Curved Air managed to enhance both their rocky and artsy sides, building a perfect equilibrium between them. Any self-respecting prog fan should get hold of Air Cut
, which is filled with original, skilful, inspired and intriguing music.