Andy Summers remains one of music’s most expressive guitarists, bending his strings to best convey the moods of whichever partner he’s working with. As one-third of the Police, he would attack melodies with a slice-and-dice mentality to complement the frenetic stylings of bandmates Sting and Stewart Copeland (just listen to “Driven to Tears,” “Next to You,” and “Synchronicity II” for proof). As a solo artist, he has worked in musical layers to build out soundscapes in intriguing ways — collaborations with virtuoso Robert Fripp were always superb ping-pong matches in instrumental prowess.
On Triboluminescence, his 14th solo album, Summers keeps his musical moodiness intact but in uncovering a “New Exotic” genre, becomes worldlier in the process — think a hybrid of Stephan Micus and Steve Tibbetts. The term “New Exotic” fits as Summers’ tracks on Triboluminescence sound like they’d fit just as easily in the Amazonian jungles or Balinese landscapes as they would at the Iridium in New York City.
Perhaps also taking instrumental cues from fusion legend Pat Metheny, Summers is a master experimenter and builder on this release, intent on shaping individual notes into tales of hope and solemnity. Ambiances are varied and wholly individual as particularly expressed on “If Anything” and the album’s nine-minute long title track. “Adinkra,” meanwhile, is the jazziest track of the bunch, with muted horns backing up Summers’ passionate noodling. “Elephant Bird” is discordant but exactly the kind of piece Adrian Belew and 80s-era King Crimson would have drooled over during their Beat phase.
Hardcore Police fans should be advised they won’t be treated to any of the springy “Walking on the Moon” melodies that aided the band’s commerciality. The closest you’ll get is “Gigantopithecus,” a track with a P-Funk title and a good whiff of bass-driven funk. Album closer “Garden of the Sea” is Summers at his most Beatles — imagine the looping techniques from “Tomorrow Never Knows” mixed with the overall mentality “Revolution 9,” all complemented by sweet strings.
Like the album’s title reflects, Summers — as inspired sculptor — strives to mold light from dark. While this release is about as far a departure as former bandmate Copeland’s Oysterhead and Animal Logic projects, Summers proves his universality is fully intact on Triboluminescence even if his musical globe-hopping yields unexpected results.
~ Ira Kantor