Rarities Series Vol. 2: Curved Space And Infinity

Curved Air

Curved Air Records, 2016


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


If you go in to this record knowing anything about Curved Air, you might be disappointed. If you know nothing about the group – and, in 2016 America, I imagine that's about 99.8% of us – you will be pleasantly surprised at this disc.

The two-disc effort comprises two separate lineups of the band, with drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa the only common bond. Each disc is a separate jam session with said lineup. The hook about  each disc is that it's entirely improvised: first take, nonexistent songs, simply three or four musicians creatively bouncing off each other and following their muse. It goes without saying there are no vocals, nothing remotely pop-friendly, and the entirety of the disc (80 minutes) is packed with sound, each separate disc taken from about five hours of playing.

For most people, including Curved Air fans, this is a turnoff. But those who delight in the intricacies of jazz and/or jam bands, such as how Phish can subtly change a song over multiple performances on stage, will get a lot out of this. The Curved Space disc is simply two guitars, bass, and drums, but they create a universe of sound. There is also a kinetic, electric telepathy through the nine songs, all of which were taken from the early '90s when Curved Air was no longer a unit but the band members remained friends and jam buddies. "Towards Tomorrow" is slow but brooding, taking a strong page from David Bowie's "Station To Station," while "Baghdad Cafe Medley" has some strong sections and "Sol Y Sombra" starts with some Eastern rhythms then gives way to a swath of deliberate Pink Floydian rock, with some great guitar work by Francis Monkman and Mike Gore. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The same sound reappears in "Blue Yonder Blues," one of the stronger workouts on the first disc; imagine if Floyd had approached the solo to "Comfortably Numb" 10 years prior on Ummagumma and you'll get the general sound of that one. The disc closes with the 14-minute "Rose," which is a bit of a cheat inasmuch as it comes from a separate jam session circa 2006 and is far more electronic in sound, with a rubbery mechanical bottom end setting the stage for some guitar skronk soloing and Florian's rhythmic drumming, which propels the groove through the long run time. Whatever you think about Curved Air, you probably never saw them as a groove band, so this will be a surprise (certainly, Sonja Kristina might be surprised).

A completely different band and approach joins Florian for the second disc. This time, it's a trio consisting of keyboard, drums and guitar. Taken from sessions in 2011, the jams were built in one take and completely improvised with keyboard (also doubling on bass) and drums, then Kirby Gregory overdubbed his guitar parts, also in one take. While the approach is admirable, the execution is a bit lacking, as the jams rarely move beyond Floyd-meets-smooth-jazz with only the occasional nifty passage. One has to wonder how these could be reworked into songs if anybody was interested, but the point was to just play and get lost in the music. "Labyrinth" is far and away the best here, creating a solid groove and some tension befitting its name, but there is far too much keyboard noodling to really recommend the rest.

The inherent flaw with this unique approach is the lack of structure. Again, this will be appealing to a limited few, but with no vocals, no real start/end times, no choruses or verses, and no edits for length, many will see these discs as self-indulgent and perhaps pointless. There are times where that is indeed the case. But for those who truly believed in the "progressive" side of prog-rock, those who are happy to get lost in a 23-minute Yes song or who think Atom Heart Mother is underrated or who even remember the band Can, Curved Space & Infinity has many moments of pleasant surprise that concedes to nobody. If this at all sounds appealing, definitely check this one out.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2016 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Curved Air Records, and is used for informational purposes only.