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Andy Summers: Peggy's Blue Skylight

Todd S. Jenkins By

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The former Police guitarist assays the multifaceted works of Charles Mingus on this compelling disc, offering updates of the temperamental bassist’s timeless compositions. Summers previously tackled solid material by Mingus, Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk and other jazzmen on his 1997 project The Last Dance of Mr. X, with bassist Tony Levin and drummer Gregg Bissonette. Peggy’s Blue Skylight finds Summers and a wider cast mining Mingus’ legacy more deeply, revealing that these classic tunes still have plenty to offer contemporary musicians and fans.

As is his habit, Summers tackles each selection with a different approach, giving this project a kind of Downtown jazz-rock-funk vibe. For example, Mingus’ driving train rhythm on Boogie Stop Shuffle is sacked in favor of a back-alley slink. Tonight At Noon starts off like an acoustic Delta blues but soon shifts into high electric gear. Other tracks echo Pat Metheny, John Scofield and supermarket soundtracks. It takes a strong talent and fine-tuned ears like Summers’ to weave such a many-textured tapestry out of one composer’s works while keeping the project entertaining and commercially viable.

The supporting musicians are notably well-chosen. Bassist Dave Carpenter is particularly versatile, pumping out steady rock rhythms one moment and mirroring Mingus’ own thundering sound the next. Cellist Hank Roberts distinguishes himself mightily on several tracks, leading one to anticipate further collaborations. Rapper Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest evocatively recites a Mingus poem over Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, and Blondie frontwoman Deborah Harry seductively groans Weird Nightmare. The Jazz Passengers and Kronos Quartet each contribute excellent performances in their turn. And over it all hover the chameleonic tones of Andy Summers, his impeccable musicianship guiding guitar and ensemble onto paths familiar and uncharted.

This is a much more enjoyable, even-tempered tribute than Hal Willner’s Weird Nightmare album, with its bizarre Harry Partch instrumentation and skewed arrangements. That disc seemed more reflective of Mingus’ troubled mental and emotional state than the true spirit of his compositions. Peggy’s Blue Skylight simply celebrates one of America’s great musical talents without an obligation to analyze his quixotic personality. Highly recommended.

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