Last Dance of Mr X
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The Last Dance of Mr. X is a captivatingly atmospheric voyage round Summers's bleached jazz roots. Dominated unsurprisingly by Summers's intricate fretwork, these 11 instrumentals comprise chiefly originals and homages to jazz maestros.... Too edgy to qualify as ambient, the album retains a clipped and disciplined shape. -- What the Critics Say
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Gregg Bissonette : Drums
Bernie Dresel : Drums
Tony Levin : Bass
Andy Summers : Guitar, Vocals
Jerry Jr. Watts : Bass
Since this is a jazz guitar trio record, there are little or no overdubs, leaving Summers to rely more on atmosphere and texture and draw extensively from his classical training. Of course, Summers also manages to come up with some interesting and unique lead guitar lines in this format. It's also a marvel to hear how much Summers, Levin, and Bissonette can achieve sonically.
In terms of the songs themselves, Summers' compositions blend seamlessly with those of jazz greats such as Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, and Mongo Santamaria.
This is a pleasant, laid-back, and mellow detour from Summers' usual dark edginess and is similar in tone to his 1991 release World Gone Strange.
Recorded in just over a week, mostly in LA, using HDCD encoding (which certainly does work), the tracks are a mix of AS originals (four, plus one co-written) and earlier compositions from the likes of Wayne Shorter, Mongo Santamaria and Thelonius Monk, arranged magnificently in a fully contemporary setting. Much virtuosity is in evidence here, for example the cover of Horace Silver's Lonely Woman, which bears comparison with the remarkable version on Pat Metheny's 1984 album Rejoicing (though Billy Higgins' amazingly ambient, bloomy wash of brushed cymbal sound remains unsurpassed).
The opening track, recorded for some reason in NYC, is said to be augmented by (Keiko Matsui's) Bernie Dresel on drums and (Wishful Thinking's) Jerry Watts on bass and, although it takes a good few hearings to fall into place with what follows, it's grown on me big time, including as it does a shameless rip-off of the central riff from the Cream's Sunshine Of Your Love.
Though bearing in places faint echoes of it, this certainly isn't a continuation of 1991's (brilliant) World Gone Strange, being somewhat more sombre (in places) and introspective, though not without its joyfully light and airy moments as well. Mind you, it isn't easy listening either, though this is simply because the arrangements and their execution are so very accomplished and immaculately executed that they simply can't be ignored as background swash. Fave tracks are Afro Blue (by Mongo Santamaria) and Footprints (by Wayne Shorter), the latter containing some superbly crisp, fiery and fluid drumming overlaid by furious Robin Trower-like guitar work (better, in fact) and underpinned by Levin's fluidly restless, roving and awesomely potent bass lines. And in amongst all this, AS' own compositions are verging on the wondrous as well.
To carp, I suppose one might wish for a bit more colour in the form of perhaps some Hammond B3 organ, but this is a failing of the most trivial insignificance. A near total masterpiece of an album really and all the more praiseworthy considering how long he's been around, including stints with the Animals in their later incarnation and, of course, with The Police.
The sheer range of styles and sounds of Mr Summers' guitar playing is superb as well, though not to the extent that the album overall sounds in any way disjointed or uneven. Quite the contrary, in fact ~ this is a wonderfully coherent and cohesive work from a true master of his instrument, quite the best of all his albums that I've yet heard. There's absolutely nothing wrong with his work as a member of the Police, but The Last Dance of Mr X is, by comparison, in a whole other league of excellence and, sad to say, many people will never even know of it. But then it is jazz I suppose and, to many people, jazz is a closed book. They don't know what they're missing and this is one of the very best albums in my collection. Definitely one of my desert island discs.