Sting - Bring on the Night
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It damned near could’ve been titled Sting Swings! Sure, Sting was always careful to point out that his first solo ensemble wasn’t a jazz band, but its members sure had the pedigrees—and chops. Saxman Branford Marsalis was, well, Branford Marsalis; bassist Darryl Jones had played with Miles Davis; keyboardist Kenny Kirkland was a member of Wynton Marsalis’ band; and drummer Omar Hakim had spent the previous three years as a member of Weather Report. Sting himself had been a jazz bassist prior to joining the Police (he switched to guitar for The Dream of the Blue Turtles and its subsequent tour), so this all made sense. That made it no less surprising, however, to hear first the jazz-flecked arrangements on Turtles and, then, the full-blown improvisational jazz-rock of its ensuing live document, Bring on the Night.
Along with the abovementioned personnel, Sting took on Janice Pendarvis (who’d sung with Philip Glass and Roberta Flack) and Dolette McDonald (Talking Heads, the Police) as backing vocalists, completing a combo that could really, ahem, work it out. They rehearsed not just the bulk of Turtles but a number of lesser-known Police songs, most of them rearranged to some extent, and hit the road across Europe. Bring on the Night—originally a Europe-only release, not officially released in the U.S. until its 2005 remastering yet widely available—is a tidy, tasty document of said tour, mixing Police obscurities with mostly non-hits from Turtles.
The double album opens with a melding of the Police’s “Bring on the Night” and “When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What’s Still Around” which features both a rap from Marsalis and a rollicking piano solo from Kirkland. “Night,” somewhat subdued in its original incarnation, is completely opened up with the help of Sting’s new sidemen, to the point where its refrain “Bring on the night/I couldn’t stand another hour of daylight” sounds not mournful, but joyous, as if nightfall is the best thing that could possibly happen. Its stitching with “World” is seamless and perfect; hearing Sting sing about watching James Brown on “The TAMI Show” makes a lot more sense in this musical context.
Unsurprisingly, the Turtles material here, while solid, doesn’t impress the way the Police songs do, chiefly because the selections from Sting’s former band have mostly been transformed in a way that the likes of “We Work the Black Seam” aren’t, as they’re played by the same personnel as in their original versions. The 1981 b-side “Low Life” (originally backing up “Spirits in the Material World”) shakes off its downcast tenor with the addition of a soaring Marsalis solo and some warm vocal assists from Pendarvis and McDonald; Zenyatta Mondatta’s “Driven to Tears” opens with the Parisian audience clapping along with its beat, and something so simple as a tambourine imbues the song, always a serious one, with a playful lightness previously unimaginable. (The Police were many things, but especially near the end, during their short-lived “World’s Greatest Band” tenure, good humor was not foremost among their traits.)
There’s one major misstep in these proceedings, and it opens Night’s second disc, in the form of a medley: Ghost in the Machine’s trite “One World (not Three),” is Caribbean-ized and paired with the equally trite “Love Is the Seventh Wave” (from Turtles). The result could practically have been used in The Little Mermaid—this isn’t so far from the treacle of “Under the Sea.” Ultimately, though, that doesn’t matter so much when hearing the haunting take on “I Burn for You” (Kirkland’s keyboards completely transform this into something magical) or a raucous turn through the old blues standard “I Been Down So Long.” Sting clearly felt freer during these concerts than he had since the Police’s earliest days, and it’s evident on every note of Bring on the Night—this is the liveliest, and most alive, music of his career. He’s got a catalog full of classics, both with the Police and as a solo artist, but he hadn’t cut an album this good before, and he wouldn’t after, either. Bring on the Night is Sting’s apex.