Friday, October 19, 2012

Andy Summers and Robert Fripp: I Advance Masked and Bewitched

At first it sounded like an odd match—the guitarist for a popular mainstream band facing off against the same for one of rock’s most challenging—but taken down to the basic details, it makes sense that Andy Summers and Robert Fripp would be so compatible. There were enough precedents in both the Police and King Crimson to show their similarities, and tendencies to create textures and spit out staccato solos. (They’re about the same age, too, Andy the older by three years. He’d also played in a whole slew of prog outfits before the Police got him.)
I Advance Masked is a true duet, each track compositionally credited to both, playing alternately dizzying runs up and down necks and exploring the capabilities of the guitar synthesizer. Being entirely instrumental, the titles suggest various moods, sometimes beautifully, as with “Girl On A Swing”, where a gentle piano dances around an acoustic guitar while a birdlike melody soars back and forth. “Painting And Dance” presents a nice little chamber piece, and tracks like “Under Bridges Of Silence”, “The Truth Of Skies” and “In The Cloud Forest” contain enough Frippertronics to build moods. There are enough uptempo pieces to keep it from being entirely impressionistic; the title track (which shares some constructive elements with “Neurotica” from Beat) is particularly edgy, a tension that continues on the percussive “New Marimba”. “Hardy Country” also provides a change in dynamic, just as “Stultified” ends the album with a set of precisely played dissonant figures.
While not a smash hit, and little promotion considering their commitments to their main bands, a follow-up still materialized. Bewitched isn’t simply more of the same, mostly because it’s more of a Summers album than a collaboration with Fripp, as the song credits make plain. While we haven’t found any official proof, the album was split between a “dance” side, which adds a real rhythm section, and a “dream” side, which is much more contemplative. Once again the titles try to be descriptive (“Begin The Day”, “Parade”, “Forgotten Steps”, “Train”), and while “What Kind Of Man Reads Playboy” is upbeat, reminiscent of Fripp’s “discotronics” period, at ten minutes it tends to drag. When the album works best, the notion of Eno mixing an ECM album isn’t so alien.
While musically satisfying, the presentation on Bewitched isn’t as successful as I Advance Masked. Having limited themselves to two albums, a 90-minute Maxell contains both nicely. If Police fans found their way here, they could well have graduated to King Crimson via a back door. More directly, it gives the listener a chance to hear Fripp’s current style unadorned by the Levin/Bruford rhythm section, nor particularly Adrian Belew. It also raises Andy’s profile a bit, giving him a chance to step out of Sting’s shadow.

Andy Summers/Robert Fripp I Advance Masked (1982)—4
Andy Summers/Robert Fripp Bewitched (1984)—3

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