Andy Summers

CMP Records, 1995

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


If you’re wondering who it was who insisted on calling this month’s retrospective a Police retrospective, despite the fact that half the albums are Sting solo releases, that would be me.  Why?  Part of it has to do with my having enjoyed Andy Summers’ autobiography One Train Later so much.  Part of it is that I find most of Sting’s post-Police solo work so self-conscious and self-important as to be extremely tedious (though many people do enjoy it… different strokes and all that).  And part of it is just the principle of thing; the Police were a trio in which none of the three could realistically lay claim to being a more accomplished musician than the other two.

That said, guitarist Andy Summers’s solo work has for the most part languished in semi-obscurity.  Which – as Ronnie Montrose can attest to – is often the case when an artist known for mainstream work begins to make music less for an audience than for himself – art that is more personal, more daring, and less commercial in its intentions.

The Police have always claimed to all love jazz, but when you examine the evidence, they seem to all come at it from different angles.  Sting’s solo work is more or less the epitome of squeaky-clean white-soul smooth jazz; drummer Stewart Copeland’s post-Police work has been steeped in world music polyrhythms; and Summers takes the improvisational ethos of jazz and makes free-form, thoroughly experimental and ultimately unclassifiable music.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Synaesthesia presents Summers in full mad scientist flower, taking you on one instrumental mind-trip after another.  Just to spice things up, on this disc his usual cadre of studio pros is supplemented by the presence behind the kit of the one and only Ginger Baker of Cream.  (If you’re expecting to hear “Sunshine Of Your Love,” though, don’t hold your breath!)

Opener “Cubano Rebop” finds Summers playing sweet, angular solos over a husky bed of Santanaesque rhythms, focusing on tone more than melody and structure.  Soon afterward “Meshes of the Afternoon” comes lumbering along, anchored by a rather ominous repeating figure. 

“Monk Hangs Ten” is the perfect title for a track that scampers like a puppy, mixing Dick Dale surf motifs with intricate Thelonious modalities, even throwing in a Spanish guitar bridge.  It’s a musical smorgasbord that’s as entertaining as it is diverse.

Next up, “Umbrellas Over Java” delivers a brilliant Eastern-Western mind meld that lays chord patterns out of the Mumbai/Jakarta axis over rhythms lifted from the trail-riding sequence of a John Wayne movie.  Not only does the unlikely combination work, it lights up what might just get my vote as best track on this disc.

Summers approaches every cut as an opportunity to experiment, lavishing each with the kind of subtle touches and textures that make them feel equally unique and important, like a series of miniature paintings.  A few tracks feel almost dissonant (notably the intriguing “Invisible Cities”), but in the end Summers manages to make even these feel as if they serve a purpose within the context of the larger album. 

The title track is one of his most daring forays in the musical laboratory, as well as one of the simplest: Summers is alone at the piano, playing heavy two-handed chords for five full minutes in a pattern that moves from rhythm to melody and back again, ultimately achieving a kind of hypnotic majesty.  You’re either going to like it or hate it; I liked it.

Bottom line -- this is challenging stuff.  Police fans who buy this or any of Summers’ other solo work looking for an instrumental version of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” are liable to feel pretty disoriented.  But if you can open your mind enough to get it around some very experimental, eclectic free jazz, Synaesthesia offers a garden of plenty.

Rating: B+

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© 2007 Jason Warburg 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 CMP Records, and is used for informational purposes only.