Andy Summers ~ Synaesthesia

Andy Summers – Synaesthesia

Although I’m sure the name will be familiar to all, Andy Summers’ inclusion in a progressive rock website may raise a few eyebrows. Granted his work with The Police earned him his household name, however Andy Summers has had many affiliations within the prog genre. Before joining the aforementioned super-group Andy had a brief stint in The South Machine (circa 1968), along with Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge and Kevin Ayers. A short lived term of office, being ‘sacked’ by Kevin Ayers – although the two were to join forces later on.

Andy Summers may also be remembered for his participation in the orchestral performance of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells in 1975. But like many others I was unaware of the ‘other’ Andy Summers until circa 1993 when I was asked to do a one-off live sound for him and John Etheridge during the brief promotion tour for their Invisible Threads album. A fascinating evening with some awesome guitar playing which also included a few interesting renditions of certain Police songs – Message In A Bottle springs to mind. At the gig I was also made aware of Andy’s collaborations with Robert Fripp and shortly after managed to borrow copies of I Advance Masked (1982) and Bewitched (1984). I Advance Masked was the better of the two, for me and I certainly wish I still had copies – (now they are two albums well deserving of a re-issue in my opinion).

I digress…

Synaesthesia was originally released in 1995 and completely missed by myself. I remember hearing the album, but found it impossible to get hold of a copy anywhere (although I did manage to get a cassette copy eventually). Reading through Sid Smith’s accompanying notes it would appear I wasn’t the only one as the German based CMP label that Synaesthesia was released on collapsed shortly afterwards. So hats off again to Esoteric Recordings for the opportunity to hear this album again after all these years.

Often described as a jazz-rock or fusion album it never quite struck me like that and somewhat confirmed by Mr Summers’ comment in the liner notes. Ginger Baker was enlisted to undertake the drumming for the album and his inventive and varied ‘world music’ influences give the album its unique flavour. So yes, it has jazz-rock elements in there, but spiced up with those hypnotic rhythms GB seems to be able to conjure up with consummate ease. Although interestingly Gregg Bissonette adds overdubs on the opening track – the reasons behind this remain unexplained. Not a bad thing in my book, but the opening guitar section of Cubano Rebop reminded me of Jeff Beck, and to a certain extent this continued through the brief, atmospheric Chocolate Of The Desperate. The driving and suspenseful Meshes Of The Afternoon has a King Crimson meets Mahavishnu feel to it – a track full of tension but with little release.

Elsewhere Gregg Bissonette holds down the beat on Monk Hangs Ten, a somewhat edgy in-swinger, with a driving punk meets surf rock vibe. Umbrellas Over Java is propulsed along with ethnic percussion and Summers’ Eastern flavoured guitar. I suppose that fact that Mitchell Forman appears on Synaesthesia and the nature of the music, but my mind often drifted to the excellent 1984 Mahavishnu album. Although Andy Summers is a gifted guitarist, Synaesthesia is not album that is replete with solo sections, however Low Flying Doves does feature some really tasty fretwork.

Steve Reich’s minimalistic approach is evident on the cyclical Invisible Cities, which sees Andy Summers not only playing the guitar parts, but also the hypnotic piano motifs. And he continues on the piano throughout the title track, again a piece of shifting cyclical music. The tension is finally released in the closing track, from the original album, with the gorgeous, Brazilian flavoured I Remember.

I can shed little light on the bonus track Triangles other than it didn’t appear on the original, but has all the hallmarks of having been written at the same time. Summers returns to the piano, suspenseful strings and classical guitar.

A somewhat eclectic mix of tracks and instrumental music, far removed from anything performed by The Police. I’ve played down the jazz-rock side of Synaesthesia, although affiliations to the genre are present throughout, mainly because Andy Summers has looked more to ‘ensemble pieces’ rather than technical excursion forays.

I have no reference as to the quality of the original recording, however as is invariably the case with Esoteric Recordings, the production is spot on.

01. Cubano Rebop (5:34)
02. Chocolate Of The Desperate (1:11)
03. Meshes Of The Afternoon* (4:54)
04. Monk Hangs Ten (4:10)
05. Umbrellas Over Java* (6:30)
06. Low Flying Doves (5:44)
07. Invisible Cities (5:49)
08. Synaesthesia (5:01)
09. I Remember (4:10)
– bonus track
10. Triangles (4:14)

Total Time – 47:17

Andy Summers – Guitars & Piano
Ginger Baker – Drums
Jerry Watts – Bass
Mitchel Forman – Keyboards

Gregg Bissonette – Drums (1 & 4)
The Trouserfly String Quartet*
-Charlie Bisharat – First Violin
-Joel Derouin – Second Violin
-Steve Richards – First Cello
-Larry Corbett – Second Cello

Record Label: Esoteric Recordings (2013)
Catalogue#: ECLEC 2430
Release: February 2013
Original Release: CMP (1995)

Andy Summers- Website