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Andy Summers

+ {Andy Summers & Robert Fripp} + Circa Zero}

Having a “POLICE” record was always something to be frowned upon, more so when a certain new wave trio were wowing arenas in the late 70s/early 80s, but behind the high-pitched buzz of their enigmatic frontman/bassist, STING (and not counting rhythmatist STEWART COPELAND), was a very underrated guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, ANDY SUMMERS. Exchanging cod-reggae punk-pop for his first love: jazz-rock (he’d dallied with the genre in his salad days as short-stop strummer for SOFT MACHINE), the Englishman has now delivered over a dozen solo and collaborative albums.
Born Andrew James Summers, 31st December 1942, Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire, and subsequently raised in Bournemouth, one can trace Andy’s musical roots back to his time as an integral part of London-based soul/R&B unit, ZOOT MONEY’S BIG ROLL BAND, after he joined in the mid-60s. Several singles and a few sets later, the combo – now as Dantalian’s Chariot – shifted into top gear as one of a raft of kaftan-attired psychedelic groups that emerged in ’67; only one solitary single, `Madman Running Through The Fields’, was released on E.M.I. as they split the following April.
After Andy’s defection to the aforementioned SOFT MACHINE, the track was indeed repossessed for an album, “Love Is” (1968) by ERIC BURDON & THE ANIMALS – Zoot and Andy’s next port of call. The early 70s saw Andy Somers (as he was then called) live a new life in Los Angeles studying at the UCLA, although his return to London in ’73 guaranteed him session and live work for the likes of KEVIN COYNE, JON LORD, KEVIN AYERS, NEIL SEDAKA and the orchestral arrangement of MIKE OLDFIELD’s “Tubular Bells”.
He’d meet STING and STEWART COPELAND in ’77 when he took part in Mike Howlett (of GONG)’s Strontium 90 project, resulting in his invitation to fill the vacant spot in The POLICE when Henry Padovani took flight. Five albums later (from 1978’s “Outlandos D’Amour” to 1983’s “Synchronicity”) and compositional/vocal contributions, notably `Mother’, `Be My Girl – Sally’, `Friends’ and `Someone To Talk To’, plus a few respective Grammys for Best Rock Instrumental Performance on `Reggatta De Blanc’ and `Behind My Camel’, The POLICE chartered solo territories in early ’84 having already previously moonlighted on various outsider projects.
Not yet ready to wholly engage in a solo set, jazz-fusion albums I ADVANCE MASKED (1982) {*7} and BEWITCHED (1984) {*6}, co-starred the talents of KING CRIMSON guitar/Moog virtuoso, ROBERT FRIPP. The fact that both artists had been raised in the county of Dorset was incidental; the atmospheric soundscapes that grace both instrumental LPs (`China – Yellow Leader’, `Painting And Dance’ and `Train’, great examples), were closer in mood to FRIPP’s lot rather than SUMMER’s.
On the back of a title track contribution to David Shire’s adaptation of “2010” (the sequel to “2001 – A Space Odyssey” based on Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra”) and with some credit to Tony Humecke on two cues, the half various artists/ANDY SUMMERS score for DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS (1986) {*5} gave the listener six instrumentals: the 5-minute cinematic `Theme’ and five other short ’n’ sweet ditties lasting in total 10 minutes; check out `The Mission Blues’. Whether Andy was listening to BERNARD HERRMANN, JOHN BARRY or even RYUICHI SAKAMOTO’s was anyone’s guess, but this was a marked transition for the one-time pop-rock guitarist.
Finally, Andy’s first bona fide solo set, XYZ {*3} appeared in ‘87, although reviews were less than sympathetic to the work. Augmented by the keyboards, drum programmes of part/co-conspirator, David Hentschel, the record – which opened with the flop single, `Love Is The Strangest Way’ – garnered all the 80s pop traits that one could admire, or indeed hate.
Turning his head towards textural new age, floating fusion instrumental albums such as MYSTERIOUS BARRICADES (1988) {*6}, the rockier THE GOLDEN WIRE (1989) {*7}, CHARMING SNAKES (1990) {*6} – showcasing augmentation from either MARK ISHAM, BILL EVANS BRIAN AUGER and HERBIE HANCOCK, or the powerhouse rhythm section of Doug Lunn and Chad Wackerman (STING performed bass on `Charis’) – and WORLD GONE STRANGE (1991) {*4}.
Although a fellow SOFT MACHINE exile (who wasn’t?) several years after Andy, the pairing of SUMMERS and jazz guitarist, John Etheridge for INVISIBLE THREADS (1994) {*4} was a laudable effort, if not in the realms of greatness. And although the stellar casting of drummers GINGER BAKER and Gregg Bissonette was worthy of a wider audience for SUMMERS’ solo return, SYNAESTHESIA (1996) {*5}, it seemed his re-interpretations of giant jazz pieces were falling on deaf ears. Ditto 1997’s smoothie set, THE LAST DANCE OF MR. X {*5}, which flashed up tracks by the likes of WAYNE SHORTER, CHARLES MINGUS, HORACE SILVER and THELONIOUS MONK.
Sidestepping Andy’s first of two collaborations (STRINGS OF DESIRE (1998) {*4}) with Brazilian guitar-player, Victor Biglione, the MONK insignia went the full hog on GREEN CHIMNEYS: The Music of Thelonious Monk (1999) {*6}; SUMMERS could rest peacefully as Messrs Walt Fowler (trumpet), Peter Erskine (drums), Joey DeFrancesco (organ) and Hank Roberts (cello), helped him achieve a pristine-sounding jazz set. PEGGY’S BLUE SKYLIGHT (2000) {*5} continued SUMMERS fixation with jazz legends, this time concentrating wholly on the work of CHARLES MINGUS; he’d covered `Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ for his 1997 album.
Back with ten original tracks in his quest to entrench his fanbase into all things jazz, the contemporary EARTH + SKY (2004) {*6} was tasty and smooth enough to assume a position in among the big names. But one can’t help feel this might’ve been great for the likes of WEATHER REPORT, CHICK COREA, et al, in the 70s, but three decades on… well, maybe not. The collaborative triumvirate of SPLENDID BRAZIL (2005) {*5} – his second crediting Victor Biglione, FIRST YOU BUILD A CLOUD… (2007) {*5} – featuring Ben Verdery, and FUNDAMENTAL (2012) {*5} – alongside the female touch of Fernanda Tikai – were albums somewhat overshadowed when SUMMERS instinctively re-grouped in 2007 with The POLICE.
Echoing said pop-rock group, not a lot but a little, Andy lured high-pitched singer/multi-instrumentalist Rob Giles (of supergroup The RESCUES) out of his day-time and into his recording studio at Venice, California. The guitar man’s umpteenth collaboration, CIRCA ZERO, was borne from these sessions; punchy, hook-line and sinker tracks that made up the similarly-titled CIRCUS HERO (2014) {*5}. Helped along by drummer Dan Epand on a handful of cuts (check out Japanese hit, `Levitation’, or `Shoot Out The Stars’), the synthetic set was tight without digging itself out of an 80s/90s time vault.
Long since out of the limelight, but still pushing the envelope out in a career that was just about the 50 mark, SUMMERS surfaced with his first solo set in several years, METAL DOG (2015) {*6}. Completely instrumental, mixing up a cocktail of jazz, world, exotica and avant-funk, his backing band were in simpatico on haunting pieces such as the dark `Ishango Bone’, `How Long Is Now’, `Harmonograph’ and `Qualia’, whilst the experimental title track and `Animal Chatter’ were reminiscent of his “FRIPP” period.
Prior to turning 75, 2017’s TRIBOLUMINESCENCE {*7} – meaning “an optical phenomenon in which light is generated through minerals rubbing together…” – was the multi-instrumentalist’s multi-layered dip into exotica, bluesy funk and jazz-rock – again. So with the “physics lesson” over, elixir of life Andy’s most accessible set for some time displayed an array of upbeat cuts, including the 9-minute title piece, plus `Sam And Janet’, `If Anything’ and `Elephant Bird’. Note: that the double-vinyl contained the bonus tracks – for once!
© MC Strong/MCS Jan2013-Jun2019

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