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Review: "Air Conditioning", the Expanded Edition of Curved Air's Debut

by Andy Snipper,

Curved Air made a massive splash in 1970 when this, their debut album, was released. Sonja Kristina’s incredible vibrato vocals and Darryl Way’s violin turned a good progressive rock band into something special. Francis Monkman on guitar and keyboards was a key part of the band’s sound with his origins in the Royal Academy of Music (Way was an alumni of the Royal College of Music) and experience with both the classical and avant garde scenes. Drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa and bass player Rob Martin had been playing with Monkman for parties and jams and the band came together with the auditioning of Sonja Kristina who was appearing in the musical ‘Hair’ at the time.

Musically, this crosses so many genres, almost appearing at times to have too many ideas, but the music is strong and utterly original. There hadn’t been a band before them who were capable of bringing a true classical bent into rock music – although Deep Purple showed that it could be done as a one-off with ‘Concerto For Band And Orchestra’ – and Way’s violin matched with Monkman’s keyboards created a completely different vibe to anything else around at the time. Way’s violin in ‘Vivaldi’, complete with rock distortion and creative dissonances is a prime example of the breath of the band’s vision. Horrifying to classical buffs but a fresh and powerful new sound to the rest.

It isn’t just about the classical material though – this band rock like demons and the interplay between them is exciting both to the musicians and the listener. Kristina’s vocals take the sound of the band into some strange and edgy places but suit perfectly. Her sound is unique but she echoes some of the Germanic coldness of Renate Knaup (who was with Amon Duul at the time) or The Velvet Underground’s Nico, adding her particular vibrato and impassioned phrasing.

My recollection of the original release of the album was that the sound was muddy and this seems to be borne out from the remastering of this recording – there appears to be a distance between the listener and the music – but it is definitely much better than the sound of the original recording. As usual, Esoteric have added bonus tracks including some live session for John Peel and the package is well up to their norm.

It is an important album and this release serves to show it in its best light.