As a high-profile plan for musical and racial integration, The Dream of the Blue Turtles was one of last year’s most significant projects. Unfortunately, the band Sting so carefully assembled was dominated by his earnest verbiage and limited by the requirements of his popmanship. Consequently, the record was an admirable muddle, hardly deserving of the ongoing documentation Sting seems to think it merits. After an album, a lengthy tour and a movie, a double live album may seem like narcissistic redundancy. But Bring On the Night is more fulfilling than any of the other Blue Turtle projects. Sting finally lets his band exhale, and the resulting gales can knock you down.
Sting correctly insists that his is not a jazz band — in the liner notes, he writes that the nomination of “The Dream of the Blue Turtles” for a jazz Grammy filled him with “horror and embarrassment” — but the instrumentalists all have distinguished jazz backgrounds, which means they’re more capable of compelling improvisation than almost any rock band. On this album, they navigate a smart selection of Blue Turtles material, wisely avoiding the hits. The cool strut of “Consider Me Gone” is especially good. But they’re shrewdest when rearranging old Police songs, the quality of which increases with the leniency of Sting’s leadership. During a “Bring On the Night”/”When the World Is Running Down” jam, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland’s barrelhouse romp prods Sting into celebrating the apocalypse. And saxophonist Branford Marsalis illuminates the coda of “Driven to Tears” with a white-light solo that pays tribute to Junior Walker.
Sting falters with the blues standard “Down So Long,” and more of the arrangements should swivel like “Demolition Man.” But the ensemble and individual playing tempers the singer’s grim scenarios and resuscitates the notion of an uncompromised jazz-rock fusion. If only the world tour had come before the recording sessions, Blue Turtles might have been this good.
Bring On the Night is not being released in the United States and is available only as an import.