In the summer of 97, millions of people were beguiled by an Andy Summers guitar lick, just as they were regularly in the decade previous. A single by a certain rap impresario copped the Police's "Every Breath You Take," and the song's arresting power once again held sway at the top of the charts. Sure Sting wrote the sampled tune, but it was that tolling Andy riff that set it into enduring motion.
Since 1986, when the Police left the stage as the biggest rock band in the world, Andy Summers has followed his own muse, cultivating the ambient and improvisatory streaks always evident in his distinctive soundprint. In fact, Andy's solo albums resonate with a spirit and invention only hinted at by his Police work. Embracing strains of jazz, classical and world music, his records reveal him as an enterprising artist, resolute in his aim to reconcile the accessibility of his pop past with the thrill of the unexpected.
On his eighth album and debut for RCA Victor, The Last Dance of Mr. X, Andy delves into trio territory for the first time since his Police days — although he's making a jazz noise here. It's not a neo-trad blowing gig or a power trio fusion thing or "smooth jazz" ear candy, it's electric, improvised music in a mixture of modes, with a set of original tunes and apt evergreens. Andy's past solo outings have always spotlighted his own inspired compositions and their characteristic conflation of the sublime and the absurd, the visceral and the cerebral — and there are several instances of such handy work on the new disc. But Andy, bass guitarist Tony Levin and drummer Gregg Bissonette also recast such standards as Charles Mingus"'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and should-be classics like Wayne Shorter's "The Three Marias" with forward-minded flair.
In all, The Last Dance of Mr. X is a seductive affair, conceived and delivered with style and taste. But to all those who ask, "But is it jazz'?" Andy replies, "It's my own skewed view of jazz; I suppose. But more than anything' it's just contemporary music, or rather contemporaneous' music. My past albums have tended toward the conceptual, but lately I've rediscovered the joy of just playing the guitar in a stripped-down setting, improvising in pure space with an of the moment vibe. The Last Dance of Mr. X is the most 'jazz' of my records, but it's of a piece with the other things I've done in that I've always tried to work beyond assumptions and preconceived notions — mine and those of others.