Since the 70s, Sting has enjoyed a varied career, ranging from punk to reggae to even chamber music. One of his riskier moves dates back to1985, when he split from seminal rock band The Police to launch his solo career. Surprising many fans, his debut album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, leaned heavily toward jazz.
To bolster his credibility, Sting recruited much of Wynton Marsalis's backing band (including saxophonist brother Branford) to perform on the album. Despite this radical move from his signature 70s and 80s punk rock sound (although The Police's Synchronicity veered toward mainstream rock), The Dream of the Blue Turtles proved a massive success, spawning top ten singles such as “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” “Fortress Around Your Heart,” and “Love Is the Seventh Wave.” Fueled by this critical and commercial acceptance, Sting brought much of his studio band on the road, and the result is the 1986 CD and documentary Bring on the Night. Over 20 years later it stands as one of my favorite live albums, a testimony to Sting's talent and diversity.
The documentary chronicles the group's trials and tribulations in rehearsing for the tour, with Sting clearly obsessed with appearing authentic in front of jazz fans. Seeing him spar with bandmates provides entertainment, but the live performances (recorded between May 29 to Dec 23, 1985) anchor the film. To fully appreciate the musicianship, however, listen to the double-CD accompanying the movie. The set list contains not only Blue Turtles songs, but reworked Police classics as well.
Kicking off the set is an extended jam which interweaves “Bring on the Night” and “When the World Is Running Down.” Kenny Kirkland's lengthy jazz piano solo is the showpiece here, a tour de force that sets the tone for the rest of the evening. “Consider Me Gone,” a Blue Turtles track that creeps up on the listener with its slinky tone and tempo. Since the original version derives greatly from jazz, the song hardly seems out of place here. Never neglecting his roots, Sting seamlessly segues from “The Dream of the Blue Turtles” to “Demolition Man,” the latter receiving an unlikely — but convincing — jazz treatment.
Branford Marsalis, both in the film and on the album, functions as the band's centerpiece. Songs such as “Low Life” and “Moon Over Bourbon Street” best exemplify his ability to fuse jazz, rock, and soul in his saxophone solos. Marsalis — as well as the rest of the band — lend eeriness and edginess to “Tea in the Sahara,” an underrated Police track from Synchronicity. Marsalis also shows off some blues chops in “Down So Long,” with Sting's nuanced delivery adding to the song's soulful quality.
In addition to the beginning track, three of my favorite songs receiving a jazzy makeover are the Police's “Driven to Tears,” “One World (Not Three),” which is melded with “Love Is the Seventh Wave,” and “Another Day.” The latter track features more outstanding keyboard work from Kirkland, with Sting and his backup singers providing harmony and rhythm. “Driven to Tears” is played at a slower tempo on this album, but it allows the band to explore its jazz elements. “One World (Not Three)” benefits from the rearrangement, with “Love Is the Seventh Wave” relying less on reggae roots in this version. But the band, also including Darryl Jones and drummer Omar Hakin, successfully test the limits of this new treatment. In general, Bring on the Night demonstrates the close relationship between jazz and rock, and how the two can complement each other.
While ambitious (particularly since Sting released it after recording only one solo album), Bring on the Night exemplifies the joy and spontaneity of live performance. It also marks Sting's relatively brief foray into jazz — he continued the trend in 1987s Nothing Like the Sun, but largely turned toward rock and pop afterward. It may not have been one of his bestsellers, but Bring on the Night ranks among some of the best live albums ever recorded.
For a taste of the album, view this excerpt from the title track; the animation is present only in this short music clip, not throughout the documentary.
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