Monday, July 20, 2020

Masks: I Advance Masked

Andy Summers/Robert Fripp: I Advance Masked
[purchase through Discogs because Amazon’s prices are not reasonable ]

You’re probably sick of reading how I learned something interesting in researching my post, but this time, I learned four interesting things. And what better way to spend the continued COVID-19 life slowdown than learning three interesting things about music, right?

First, if you asked me who was older, Andy Summers, former guitarist for The Police, or Robert Fripp, King Crimson guitarist, I probably would have said Fripp. Mostly because he’s been pretty famous since the late 1960s, is generally categorized as being a prog-rocker and usually wears suits these days, while Summers became famous as the guitarist in a punk band in the late 70s-early 80s. But that’s wrong. Summers is 77 (!), while Fripp is 74. I think I knew that Summers played in Soft Machine, and with other bands before The Police, but I guess his time in that band made me think he was younger than he is (Sting is 68 and Stewart Copeland is 67. Henry Padovani, The Police’s original guitarist (!), is also 67.)

The second thing that I learned is that Summers and Fripp first met in the early 1960s, when Summers’ band, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, was the regular entertainment at the Bournemouth Majestic Hotel when Fripp was attending Bournemouth College. And when Zoot Money moved to London, Fripp’s band, the Majestic Dance Orchestra, replaced them at the hotel. The Majestic was a Jewish hotel, and the Majestic Dance Orchestra occasionally played weddings and bar mitzvahs. (Interesting thing number three!) Apparently, the two incredible, but different, guitar players remained friends.

We’ll get to the fourth interesting thing soon.

In 1981 and 1982, when both men had time between their Police and Crimson obligations, they met to jam together, and those sessions ultimately resulted in an album of 13 instrumentals entitled, I Advance Masked. To my ears, much of the album, and particularly the title track, displays some similarity to the interlocking guitar work that Fripp was doing with Adrian Belew in the recently reformed King Crimson, except that Summers and Belew’s styles are very different, so it didn’t sound exactly like Crimson. Not being a guitarist, or really a musician of any sort, I’ll let Summers describe how his and Fripp’s styles were different:

We’re still pretty much polar opposites in our playing. Robert over the years has gone down one line, the polyrhythmic single-line approach, and he’s brought it to a degree of perfection where he can improvise on it and play it like no other guitarist in the world. His strengths are playing the sort of fuzz solo, very quirky and very rhythmic. I’m classically-trained, came up playing pop and blues (Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, Soft Machine, Animals, etc.), a regular rock soloist in many ways. It’s hard, but it clicks. Robert gives the music a spine, he’s the masculine element, and I probably represent the feminine side of the duo, but out of it a whole new personality emerges. It’s a beautiful form of alchemy. 

The song, remarkably, also spawned a very bad video:

So, what’s the fourth thing? The title of the song and album was derived from something that none other than René Descartes once wrote in a diary, and which supposedly became the second most famous thing he ever said (although I admit to never having heard it before): “larvatus prodeo,” which sounds like a Harry Potter spell, but means, “masked, I advance.” Apparently, it relates to how Descartes had to disguise his true self to succeed.

OK—there’s a fifth thing I learned, although it isn’t as interesting as the other stuff. On the DGM Live website, the official site for Fripp/Crimson and related projects (and projekcts), Fripp often publishes a daily diary, and since March, he occasionally titles them “I Advance Masked,” and includes a picture of him in a mask. Here’s one recent example.

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