Air - Air

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2016-08-12

Warning: This is not the electronica French duo. It’s what has been described as a long-lost jazz-rock masterpiece. Released in 1971, the eponymously entitled Air is very much a product of its age. In an era where bands called themselves Water or Bread, they opted for Air. With none of the irony of the French outfit.

I don’t know if it’s a masterpiece, but despite being wonderfully dated, its exemplary for its day. The band hailed from Long Island but more than anything the feel is that the inner city. I get the sense they all listened to heaping doses of that Marvin Gaye masterpiece, What’s Going On. Not to mention mounds of Miles, Herbie and Santana records.

More than anything, Air are a jazz band, with a mean r&b habit. One of the things they had going for them was front woman Googie Coppola. Talk about pipes! I don't understand why she wasn't a household name. There is not only something unique but unpretentiously expressive about her voice. She’s the real deal. Singing with absolute passion and abandon.

A couple of other things Air had going for them: stellar musicianship and solid songwriting. A lone, sparse piano greets you on the opening number, ‘Realize’, before breaking into a tight groove. And it doesn't take time to realize they aren't filled with hot Air.

Musically, and lyrically, there's something going on upstairs. Where others are strident or self-righteous, Air kicks its message off on the right note. “You got the sunshine, they got the rain,” Coppola belts.

'Mr. Man' follows, and if you’re expecting Mr Man to get his 70s groove on in his 6in platform heels, think again. Its actually quite a sincere song, more in keeping with Billie Holliday's brand of lonesome, broken-heart balladry. It also features a remarkable trumpet solo with echoes of both Miles and Chet Baker, Coppola’s strong, bluesy vocals hitting it home.

Things get downright funky on ‘Baby, I Don’t Know Where Love Is’, with its Herbie Hancock style noodling on the keys. Once again the band isn't shy when it comes to going into jam mode. While I'm not a big fan of jams, it's impressive to hear how Air know when to funk it up or jazz it up. 

‘In Our Time’ is a plea for equality, in keeping with 'Realize'. If the band has one fault, its a tendency toward over-sincerity, but its never mawkish or heavy-handed. On the other hand, 'Man is Free' is one of the groovier, yet darker tracks. ‘Sister Bessie’ has an irrestible melody. It's an album standout and would have sounded great on the soundtrack of some gritty 70s cinema verite classic.

The album’s one instrumental is the jazz-sax freak-out ‘Lipstick’. Let's face it, it's the 70s, these cats, man, they got to get their groove on. So let them get their rocks off. This is part of the album where you're suppose to snog or roll a spliff, or do a line of blow in the meantime. Not to worry, ‘Man’s Got Style’ picks things up again.

Another standout is ‘Jail Cell’, which finds Air in pure Carol King mode: yearning vocals, stark piano; it’s one of the album’s most arresting moments. Possessing all the restraint ‘Lipstick’ lacks. Air ‘s last gasp is ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free’. I don’t know the original album’s track-listing, but based on the sound quality I’m willing to bet its an outtake or demo from the sessions. Still, it’s Air’s most raw and intimate cut. Just Googie and piano.  

Tracking this down on its original vinyl would cost you a pretty penny. Fortunately, Be With Records has painstakingly and beautifully mastered, mixed and restored it to its vinyl glory. It’s easy to see why some aficionados cherish Air’s one and only release. True, the cover’s pretty goofy. But in a priceless way. As Bo Diddley once quipped, you can’t judge a book by its cover. 

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