Monk-like devotion


THE POLICE drummer Stewart Copeland played in an art-rock band called Curved Air. Sting dabbled in cult films and Dennis Potter dramas. Now guitarist Andy Summers is working his way through oddball jazz icon Thelonious Monk's demanding compositions. Imagine the lofty conversations in the dressing- room before a Police concert. How did such a trio of high foreheads manage to cough up fur balls such as "Roxanne"?

Summers' jazz credentials go back further than his more famous association with Sting. Some of his earliest work was on the British jazz scene, and his love of Monk stretches back to his teens. Which is handy, because Monk's music refers to the popular song and stride piano, but is in a genre all of its own and should be handled with extreme care. Inside those quirky, fragile tunes there's a foundation of granite, protecting its integrity from the casual reworking. The odd chord extensions and rhythmic displacements work like a pinball table, battering soloists around before dropping them back into the slot from which they came. Yet if you're a good musician, Monk can make you sound better than ever.

Leading a penetrating trio, with Dave Carpenter on electric bass and Joel Taylor on drums, Summers presented an evening of Monk, original compositions and deadpan wit ("Sting sings on this track on the record. Sorry, you can't buy it as a single."). He chose the Monk tunes well. "Green Chimneys", normally one of Monk's lighter works, became something sinister, with creaky six-string electric bass and a tense guitar solo. There was a clever, funky "Bemsha Swing", a raucous and fuzzy "Hackensack" - Summers' contemporary jazz-rock articulation, containing echoes of John Scofield, bringing them both to life. At his best, Summers was measuring Monk's own musical ambushes with a bag of unexpected twists and turns of his own.

Aside from the strange "The Last Dance Of Mr X" (which sounded like a thrash version of an Italian wedding band), his own tunes worked less well. "Blues For Mr Snake" and "World Gone Strange" were very much fast- fingered "bloke-fusion", the action all at high speed and at the top of the neck.

Not every little thing they did was magic, but it was more than a capable performance. As Summers said, it was "great to be here. Much nicer than Ealing or Neasden or somewhere".

Linton Chiswick

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