Cherry Red 2016
An offer you can’t refuse: British art-rock veterans reveal many facets of a single slice of wonder.
On the face of it, the first instalment in the “CURVED AIR Rarities” series may try even a staunch fan’s patience: 15 versions of the shortest “Air Conditioning” cut – inspired by Terry Riley whose piece lent the band their name – gelled into an hour-long sound montage of variations on its theme are quite an experience. Yet what could have made a travesty turns out to be a tapestry, indeed, a rich and riveting one, thanks to the strength and imagination of the ensemble’s current line-up. With Sonja Kristina’s voice prefacing and signing off an uninterrupted array of recordings marked by the venue where they were laid down, there’s instrumental prowess and vigor to marvel at, and a delight, too.
Going on tangents and returning to the main riff via different routes, the group seamlessly swing from solid rock riffs to almost free jazz, as Kirby Gregory’s raging guitar freezes in a glacial cage of Robert Norton’s keyboards before passing a solo onto Paul Sax’s violin, although the order of such a circle is perpetually changed. Quite quiet in St. Albans, the ebb and flow are much intense in Wimbourne, where organ is taken to the fore, and Florian Pilkington-Miksa’s drums thunder on while his cymbals give piquancy to an excerpt from an Eastney performance in a very delicate manner. The interplay is at its more fantastic in a St. Ives document, with Chris Harris’ bass locking into an ever-shifting groove, but it was in Shoreham that the band ran exquisitely wild – a rare feat for a collective of their vintage.
From such a standpoint, it’s a rarity, yet this experiment being inventive rather than boring is a sign of CURVED AIR’s vitality. By looking at their beginnings and finding a new way to take it to the present, the band still pave their future.