Andy Summers has finally done it. He has finally made a great fusion or rock-jazz album. Since the Police, Andy's albums have been mostly minimalist, esoteric or gimmicky endeavors. Many of them, especially the ones co-lead by Robert Fripp literally put me to sleep. His new album, The Last Dance of Mr. X is anything but boring. In addition to Andy on guitars, the players are Tony Levin on bass and Gregg Bissonette on drums. Tony has worked on innumerable sessions, including albums by King Crimson, Joan Armatrading, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Peter Gabriel. Jerry Watts and Bernie Dresel help out on one number. Gregg has played with Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Tab Benoit, David Lee Roth, and Maynard Ferguson. Summers and company are basically in the same sound bag as John Abercrombe, Ginger Baker Trio, and Steve Khan. Tony and Gregg are solid and provide much more than backing. This album would not fly at all with out them.
I feel for myself that the first cut on the CD "Big Thing" is almost worth the price of the CD alone. The "Big Thing" is the least like anything else on the album. Also it is as close as he gets to his "police" sound this cut is the most Jazz-Rock like on this release alternating choppy and sustained block chords. It's bass-drum tracks are somewhat like later Ginger Baker albums. It swings hard, but Andy sounds very different from Bill Frisell. The "Big Thing" contains what I believe is a first for Andy Summers (I must admit I do not have all his solo albums), an extended guitar solo. It is quite wild and in a few places bluesy. The Ginger Baker connection must not have been lost on Andy either. Near the end of the several minute long guitar improvisation he plays the signature riff of the Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love."
Andy covers several standards by Wayne Shorter ("The Three Marias" & "Footprints"), Mongo Santamaria ("Afro Blue"), Thelonious Monk ("We See"), Horace Silver ("Lonely Woman"), and Charles Mingus ("Good Bye Pork Pie Hat"). Andy handles these standards well. The tunes were rearranged drastically, never being literal interpretations. I had wondered how Summers would accomplish transcribing Monk and Shorter to guitar. The addition of congas or timbales percussion and piano would have made "Afro Blue" outstanding. In addition there are five original pieces.
The Summers' original "Strange Earth" caught my attention. Parts of the theme sound very much like the melody of "Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves." I hope its author does not mind as we do not want to see another My Sweet Lord / He's So Fine controversy. "The Last Dance of Mr. X" is a strange moody piece. The drumming is militaristic. "Rumpelstiltskin" is a lovely improvisational number. "The Somnambulist" has a familiar sounding repeated hook that I can not place. In fact in many places this album sounds like something I have heard somewhere. Odd, but it is OK. It keeps you coming back to try to figure it out. The title of the album, The Last Dance of Mr. X is interesting to ponder in it self. I know that Andy Summers is greatly interested in photography as am myself. I am thinking it might be some strange joke about the cover pictures of Andy prancing around on the beach. Anyone can easily read that the photographs were taken on Kodak Tri-X film - perhaps the photographer is switching to Kodak T-max film!
All in all this is Andy Summers finest effort to date. Charming Snakes and World Gone Strange were pretty good albums too and included some great players as well. If Mr. Summers plans to record any more jazz covers in the future, I would like to see him try some pieces by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Dave Brubeck - "So What", "Giant Steps", and "Take Five" come to mind. These and many more should prove to be challenging.