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Police alum's album often arresting

The Last Dance of Mr. X
The Last Dance of Mr. X
By Andy Summers

RCA Victor: 1997

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This review first appeared in the February 14 edition of the American Reporter.

Sting may be the alumnus of the '80s dance/pop band The Police who's become the most famous solo act – become an international star, in fact – but guitarist Andy Summers is the more musically interesting.

Summers' new release reiterates earlier evidence of the hows and whys of Summers boredom with Sting's increasingly pabulum shtick in The Police before their breakup 14 years ago: Unlike his superstar former bandmate, Summers plays an energetic, roiling mix of fusion, straight-ahead jazz, imaginative improvisation, funk and rock.

It is only partly the presence of bassist Tony Levin (veteran of the second incarnation of King Crimson) that gives this album a classic fusion feel to it. More of it is due to the fact that Summers' playing here evokes memories of John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth – good memories of those two at the height of their improvisational prowess.

But what really sets this off is the resonance Summers and Levin find with drummer Greg Bissonette – the three of them remind anew why the trio format is best suited for high-energy fusion as they sustain a razor-thin groove that would quickly topple in less-capable hands.

This is not a perfect album – at times it is cliched, at others a bit boring. In a word, uneven.

Summers' work on his own compositions is consistently good – and several of the songs are new little gems, like "Big Thing," which sounds as if it could have come out of the Zawinul/Shorter library. Funky and meaty, it has a scintillating melody line and ferocious backbeat that set the mood for the whole CD.

On the downside, though, Summers' taste in covers is so ambitious that at times it seems to outstrip his comfort level and confidence. Covers of Horace Silver's "Lonely Woman" and Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue," for instance, never find their place in Summers' musical voice.

But then, he turns around with a tasty cover of Thelonious Monk's "We See" – and closes the album out with a wonderful reading of Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat."

Of course, we would all prefer the perfect album – whatever that might be. Despite some lost moments on this album, it's a smart, engaging release worth a listen.