Sparkling entertainment of the highest order...
It's hard to believe Sting when he says that his latest musical expedition isn't a 'solo project'. The live evidence is entirely to the contrary. Sting has gathered together some of the best jazz players around: Weather Report's Omar Hakim (drums), Miles Davis; bassist Darryl Jones, and Kenny Kirkland (keyboards) and Branford Marsalis (saxophones) from the highly rated Wynton Marsalis Band; but they've been kept on a tight leash.
But that's not to say it wasn't sparkling entertainment of the highest order. From the opening number 'Shadows In The Rain' - a frantic amalgam of the obvious elements of the Police and jazz featuring a ferocious display of keyboards from Kenny Kirkland - the show didn't fail to hold the attention.
Sting played barely audible rhythm guitar and was content to allow his colleagues to show their talents within the tight confines of his songs. New songs like 'Consider Me Gone' - a cool and languid work-out - and 'Fortress Around My Heart' - a typical piece of Sting melody and an insistent bass riff - contained all the hallmarks of his work with the Police but fleshed out with some outstanding musicianship from Omar Hakim and Branford Marsalis.
Old songs like 'Driven To Tears' and 'Bring On The Night' were given new accents with the beat easing the song along rather than driving it hard as in their original forms.
The highlights of the new songs were the slower numbers where the tight song construction was enhanced by the easy style of the band. 'We Work The Black Seam' - a song about the follies of Thatcherism and the death of the mining communities - was easily the most moving song of the night. It was fuelled by a melody that wouldn't have been out of place played by a brass band, while capturing the restrained anger of 'Invisible Sun'.
'Children's Crusade' - a dreamy nursery rhyme about the exploitation of children throughout the ages up to today's heroin epidemic - built up to an explosive soprano saxophone solo from Branford Marsalis. While 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' was a sparse jazz ballad in the style of Tom Waits.
The comedy highlight was undoubtedly the inelegant entrance of a castle with a giant cardboard heart stuck in it during 'Fortress Around My Heart'. Obviously a joke from the road crew, the surprised Sting managed to refer to the original joke in the film 'This is Spinal Tap' by saying ''At least it wasn't Stonehenge''.
Of course the evening wouldn't be complete without solo guitar and voice versions of 'Roxanne' - a song written in Paris - and 'Message In A Bottle', both breathtaking.
But the overall impression was one of restraint - either because Sting was exhausted having watched his girlfriend Trudie Styler giving birth that morning and conducting a press conference, or because it's a flaw inherent in the group's set up - it's hard to tell until he performs British dates around Christmas.
(c) Record Mirror by Mike Gardner