Der Stingle chose to form a new band with young jazz hotshots from Weather Report (drummer Omar Hakim) and the Miles Davis group (bassist Darryl Jones), plus saxophonist Branford Marsalis and keyboardist Kenny Kirkland. These aren't the usual sleepy gang of veteran sidemen; they never bothered to learn pop-jazz... Read More
clichés, but they know their Jimi Hendrix, Chic, Herbie Hancock and Led Zeppelin, along with their Duke Ellington.
Unlike Joni Mitchell, another Big Blond Star who attempted this kind of jazzification, Sting can swing. You can hear how much fun he's having, and how much goosing he gets from the band, in the remake of the Police's "Shadows in the Rain." The spooky, dubwise reggae tune from Zenyatta Mondatta now steams along like a workout by soul-jazz organist Jimmy Smith. Kirkland pumps out organ chords over Hakim's stomp, while Sting and Marsalis dodge each others' syncopations around the bass line.
But except for "Shadows," the bluesy "Consider Me Gone" and an instrumental, "Blue Turtles," that grafts progressive 1960s jazz onto a Weather Reporty march, The Dream of the Blue Turtles is a pop record above all. It's only a jam session between the lines, where Marsalis answers Sting's voice with slyly ubiquitous fanfares and curlicues and epigrams.
Sting still writes short, modal melody lines, and sometimes he plays around with the Police's quiet marches (à la "King of Pain") and Afro-Anglo-Caribbean rhythms to do anything else would be like changing his fingerprints. But if you listen to the way verses and phrases end, there are new twists, surprising extended chords by way of Steely Dan, Weather Report and Ellington. Although Sting is working with world-class improvisers, many of his new band's arrangements are more structured than tracks by the Police. That amazing trio could juggle rhythm and lead roles like nobody's business, while a quintet that tried the same openness would find itself in chaos. The new band is also punchier than the Police, because Kirkland's keyboards especially the organ reinforce the rhythm, and the Hakim-Jones team packs a mighty wallop.
Solo albums are traditionally variety shows and statements of purpose, and The Dream of the Blue Turtles is a little of both. Sting delves into neovaudeville with "Moon over Bourbon Street" and serioso classical hymnology with "Russians," a disarmament song. He also comments on the British miners' strike ("We Work the Black Seam"), on lost generations ("Children's Crusade") and on matters philosophical and epistemological ("Love Is the Seventh Wave" and "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free").
When I saw the band in concert (as you should when it t