Circa Zero

Never one to favor flash over substance, Andy Summers may very well be the most underrated guitarist of the rock era. Summers took a minimalist approach with his work for the juggernaut pop-alternative trio known as The Police, letting atmospherics and not pyrotechnics fuel such indelible hits as “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Breath You Take.” His echoing, chorused, chordal-centric technique schooled a generation of players from U2’s The Edge to The Fixx’s Jamie West-Oram. Even a player as accomplished as Rush’s Alex Lifeson added a Summersesque “less is more” dimension to his repertoire during the ’80s.

After the band’s heyday, Summers flexed his muscles in a multitude of genres from jazz to classical to flamenco. Six years after the über-successful (and likely final) Police reunion tour, Summers has hooked up with L.A.–based multi-instrumentalist Rob Giles to form Circa Zero, and, to be blunt, the boys just wanna rock. Giles brings a clear singing voice to the table, his tonal character occasionally reminiscent of Adrian Belew’s, and he has a knack for writing instantly memorable retro-current melodies.

“Levitation” kicks it all off exactly right, with a signature Summers riff entering the right channel with Giles’s counter bass line in the left. Giles’s sticks-on-cymbals hits sizzle straight down the middle, and then a heavier guitar line, replete with the master’s delay-and-shimmer recipe, dominates the left before a sweetly centered, doubled vocal comes in and carries the chorus.“Gamma Ray” fuses New Wave riffage with Robert Fripp–ish angularity, with finely stacked vocals and my favorite lyric on the album: “Hot as Rwanda/or young Jane Fonda.” Summers’s wah-laden solo plays with the melody, bending and shaping it like a cat toying with a ball of string. “No Highway” is driven by a crunchy riff Slash would headbang to, and it pokes and pulses in the right channel on the verses before moving to the center for a grand windout solo.

The moody “Night Time Travelers” features a tasteful acoustic-guitar break followed by a piano-driven, “Layla”-like uplifting back half (along with a nice falsetto turn from Giles), while the propulsive “Light the Fuse & Run” unchains Summers’s inner Van Halen. The man may be 71, but he’s playing like he’s 21.

The final track, the instrumental, piston-pounding “Hot Camel,” revs straight into the Jeff Beck power-trio lane, making perfect poetic sense for a Yardbirds/Police ax-attack lineage. It further proves just about every little thing Circa Zero does is magical.

Label: 429 Records
Audio Format: 44.1-kHz/16-bit PCM stereo
Number of Tracks: 13
Length: 1:00:42
Producers: Andy Summers, Rob Giles
Engineer: Dennis Smith