Andy Summers

Millions of people were enchanted by the Andy Summers guitar lick in 1997, as they were throughout the previous decade. One single from a certain rapper was a cover of “Every Breath you Take” by the Police, and it held its place at the top of the charts. Although the song was sampled by Sting, it was Andy’s rousing riff that made it a timeless hit. Andy Summers, who left the stage in 1986 as the largest rock band in the globe, has been following his own path, cultivating his unique soundprint with ambient and improvisatory elements. Andy’s solo albums are filled with an ingenious spirit that is only matched by his Police work. His records embrace jazz, classical, and world music. He is an entrepreneur who seeks to combine the appeal of his pop past with the excitement of the unknown. Andy’s eighth album, The Last Dance of Mr. X is his debut for RCA Victor. He ventures into trio territory for first time since his Police days, although he’s still making a jazz noise. This is not a neotrad gig, nor a power trio fusion thing, or smooth jazz ear candy. It’s electric, improvised, and includes a mix of original songs and appropriate evergreens. Andy’s solo performances have always highlighted his original compositions and their distinctive conflation between the sublime and absurd, cerebral and visceral — and there are many examples of this handy work on the new CD. Andy, Tony Levin (bass guitarist) and Gregg Bissonette (drummer) recast classics such as Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” or Wayne Shorter’s “The Three Marias”, with a forward-thinking flair. The Last Dance of Mr. X is a captivating affair. It’s conceived and delivered with style. Andy responds to those who ask “But is this jazz?” Andy says, “It’s just my distorted view of jazz, I suppose.” It’s contemporary music or contemporaneous music more than anything. My previous albums were more conceptual than my current ones. But lately, I have discovered the joy of playing the guitar in a stripped down setting and improvising in pure, unstructured space with an in-the-moment vibe. Although The Last Dance of Mr. X has the most ‘jazz’ of all my records, it is also a good example of how I have always tried to transcend preconceived notions and assumptions — both mine and others. PAST AS PROLOGUE Andy’s solo preferences were predicated not only by his shimmering guitarscapes, pointillistic solos, but also by the occasional album track and b side he wrote as foils for Sting’s pop genius. Many Police fans are familiar with Andy as their voice of wry dementia. He is the one who wrote the Synchronicity wigout and synthetic romance “Sally” and “Sally” (Outlandos d’Amour). He also wrote the apocalyptic pop song “Omegaman” for Ghost in the Machine, and the warped, instrumental travelogue “Behind My Camel”, for Zenyatta Mondatta. He was also responsible for fitting flipsides of some great singles. “Invisible Sun” was backed by the future-tense instrumental “Shambelle” as well as “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, paired with the witty “Someone To Talk To” with Andy’s touching vocal. Andy released XYZ, a solo pop record, in 1987. This was in keeping with “Someone To Talk To.” Before that vocal experiment, however, Andy recorded two solo albums with King Crimson fretboard master Robert Fripp — I Advance Masked and Bewitched. These records set the tone for his first solo album, Mysterious Barricades. This was the first in a series searching for Private Music. Mysterious Barricades, a string shadow play album, evokes the epigrammatic atmosphere of French composer Erik Satie. The subtle shifts and the pastel keyboard accompaniment have often been referred to as New Age. However, it is too emotionally and intellectually engaging. The above scenes were merely a backdrop for 1989’s The Golden Wire album, which was nominated for a beautiful, Grammy-nominated mix of world music influences and new electric guitar textures. This record features many sterling musicians, including Paul McCandless, an Oregon reed player, and Najma Akhtar, an Indian singer, as well as a collection of masterful, moody compositions. As the tide suggests, the guitar is the main focus. Andy’s serpentine solos dance like a muezzin’s call within the ensemble penumbrae of ‘A Piece of Time’ and ‘Earthly Pleasures. The guitar-only pieces “A Thousand Stones”, which is rife with anger, and “Imagine You,” are dark, mysterious evocations from a timeless, phantasmal otherworld. The Golden Wire, akin to Nothing But the Sun…for Sting (where Andy lent his instrument to “The Lazarus Heart”, “Be Still My Beating Heart”) is the work that Andy discovered his true solo voice. Andy released two more albums for Private Music to follow his artistic breakthrough. Charming Snakes, a jazz-rock mix with warm tunes, features a stellar lineup of musicians, including Chad Wackerman, Mark Isham, and Bill Evans, who solos with ease throughout. It was released in 1990. Sting makes a guest appearance, lending his bass to the title track. Herbie Hancock contributes keyboards to many tracks, as well as a solo piano intro to “Big Thing”. It’s an irresistible masterpiece that will appeal to both Police fans and those who love super-jazz bands like the Pat Metheny Group. World Gone Strange was produced by Mike Manieri. However, the disc’s high points are Andy’s finest music. The title track and “Bacchante”, which feature Elliane Elias as a Brazilian singer/pianist, are disarming duets. “But She” is reminiscent of the captivating atmospheres of The Golden Wire. Andy left the more pastoral confines Private Music and paused to listen to an acoustic interlude on the Mesa label: 1993’s Invisible Threads. This was a duet CD with John Etheridge, a long-time friend and fellow British guitarist. The album features originals by extroverts as well as affectionate tributes to Django Rheinhardt, and Thelonius Monk. It puts a new life into unplugged music. Andy next turned to CMP, a German imprint that Andy had previously worked with, for Synaesthesia 1995, his most ambitious and daring work. Andy drew inspiration from the futurists Kandinsky and Scriabin in his erudite, yet grounded collection. He also incorporated elements of minimalism, Latin rhythms, and grunge guitar into the mix. The whole is engaging and involved, especially on great numbers like “Meshes of the Afternoon,” Cubano Rebop”, and “Umbrellas Over Java.” The guitar playing is both lush and simple, which is something that is rare. This resume is complete with Andy’s contributions to guitarist David Torn and drummer Michael Shrieve’s haunting post-fusion opus Stiletto. His intermittent dealings in Hollywood led to the highly acclaimed score for Down Out in Beverly Hills. Andy was also able to produce a Real World album for the African Pan Orchestra and oversee the release of the Police live album. Recent tours included a European tour with jazz picker Larry Coryell, percussionist Trilok Gurtu and scores of gigs with Bissonette, bassist Jerry Watts, and at jazz clubs such as the Baked Potato, Andy’s adopted home in Los Angeles. He also played a multi-night stand at the Knitting Factory with Watts, Bissonette and Trilok Gurtu in New York (where Sting stopped by to sing a smoking version of “Walking on the Moon”), which served as an extended preview for The Last Dance Of Mr. X. THE LAST DANCE of Mr. X, recorded in Hollywood over a week during January ’97. Produced by Andy and Eddie King. Andy was accompanied by Tony Levin, Peter Gabriel alum and Gregg Bissonette, L.A. session singer. An 11th track was added in the eleventh hour. Andy’s trio of touring musicians, Watts and Bernie Dresel, kick off the album with “Big Thing” or “Very Big Thing”. This is a one-take rendition of the Charming Snakes song. The album transitions to new tunes and reinterpretations past masters from that fresh twist on an original. The Last Dance of Mr. X’s highlight is “The Three Marias,” a Wayne Shorter composition that first appeared on the 1985 album, Atlantis. Andy recalls that he worked with Larry Coryell, Trilok Gurtu on a version of The Three Marias acoustically and was constantly thinking about how it would be suitable for electric guitar. It’s a wonderful piece of writing. Wayne discusses how he saw the music cinematically in the liner notes for Atlantis. It is truly imagistic. The original is so beautiful and pristine that it’s impossible to approach it any other way than making your own version. Our trio version is more visceral and hopefully retains that cinematic feel.” “Footprints”, another Shorter composition, appears later on this album. After its debut in ’66 on Shorter’s Blue Note album Adam’s Apple, and the Miles Davis quintet’s Miles Smiles, this tune quickly became a jazz classic. Although it’s a cantankerous abstraction of the original blues, Andy’s trio gives the song its own twist by making it a fiery songo. Andy says that Tony was inspired by the Latin rhythm and that Gregg had the idea. A Latin touch informs “Afro Blue” in its core. Although the piece was composed by Mongo Santamaria of Cuba, it is largely due to John Coltrane’s epic rendition on Live at Birdland in 1963. Andy comments, “That’s such an exotic tune, it sits really nicely upon the guitar.” “We changed the keys and added more space, adding a bit more dissonance, and it shines on this one. The rhythm section is at its best on this album, especially with its most vibrant performance. Another important cover is “We See”, a Monk song from Straight, No Chaser. Andy has always had a special affinity to Monk’s bent beauty, and pays off-kilter tribute to him with “Monk Gets Ripped”, on Charming Snakes, and “Monk Hangs Ten”, from Synaesthesia. “I love Monk dearly,'” Andy says. “I have listened to so many of his songs over the years that it is almost like I am paraphrasing them all the time. His music is full of a piquant flavor and a combination of sweet and bitter, which I find very appealing. It never gets old.” Other jazz standards are Horace Silver’s “Lonely Woman”, and Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, both from Song for My Father, 1964. Andy had previously recorded a version “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” acoustically but never committed it to disc. Andy says that the piece is so large it is difficult to play. Andy says, “You’re always wondering, “Can I really add to this?” Andy’s contribution is his electric guitar spinning out the endless Mingus melody with only the bass, and the lamenting legato lines, until the brushes come in softly for the final statement of the theme. The same goes for “Lonely Woman”, where Andy’s fretwork highlights the melody’s melancholy spirit while keeping the original’s atmosphere intact. Andy’s compositions for The Last Dance of Mr. X complement and create a small cosmos of their own. “Strange Earth”, Andy’s most mysterious tune, is also one of the most enduring, with a lilting Caribbean sound that takes odd, otherworldly amounts. The Monk-like, sanguine “Rumpelstiltsken”, moves along with a sunburst melody, and Andy’s jazzier solos. However, clouds are always visible. “The Somnambulist”, a darkly dreamy lyrical ballad, floats on sensual rhythm playing and opulent harmonys until Andy’s slow burn solo brings in one of the album’s most profound passages. Andy’s humor is at its most loopy in the title track. “The Last Dance of Mr. X,” is a droll mix: A noirish intro leads to a spaghetti Western section with a fandango flourish, and then onto a sort of twisted tango. The song then veers into country and western with a rock n roll break. Andy is a little puzzled. “On paper, it doesn’t seem like it would work. But live, people love it,” Andy says. It’s a crowd pleaser. AIMING FOR GRAY AREAS Andy Summers was a pioneer in backing singers to the highest level. He used his eight-bar solos and fistfuls of “plush chords”, as Sting would call them, to take him from CBGB into Shea Stadium. His adventurous spirit has led him to create gray-area music within a black-and white world. This has in turn led to him returning to the clubs. (Andy will tour the U.S.A. and Europe with his trio for The Last Dance of Mr. X.) “I’ve had a very intense playing life in the last few years with many people, here and abroad, Japan, South America,” says he. He smiles and says, “It’s all about trying to improve as a player, develop a deeper voice with my instrument,” adding, “Really it’s been very health.” Bradley Bambarger, a senior writer at Billboard magazine in New York, has been trying to learn to play without the intense desire to be liked.

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