Blue Turtles
Costa Mesa, USPacific Coast Amphitheater

What a difference a few nights make...

The question when Sting opened his first U.S. solo tour Aug. 13 in San Diego was whether the tendency of the four aggressive jazz musicians to smother him was due to opening-night raggedness or to the design of the show. In closing their Southern California stay on Wednesday at the Pacific Amphitheatre, Sting and the musicians worked together masterfully in a dynamic display of musical imagination and daring. For one of the few times in pop, there was the sense of genuine creative exploration, not simply the reproduction of a sound already agreed upon in the studio.

Two things were apparent at the Pacific: The musicians - saxophonist Branford Marsalis, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, drummer Omar Hakim and bassist Darryl Jones - have become comfortable enough to work off each other's licks now, rather than simply try to inject their own musical personalities. In addition, Sting exhibited far more confidence on vocals and guitar. His singing, particularly, showed more freedom and force - conveying both the psychological disorientation of 'Shadows in the Rain' and the gentle persuasion of 'Love Is the Seventh Wave' - than in his work with the Police or on his new solo album.

This tour shapes up as a legitimate triumph that underscores both the range of Sting's ambition and the depth of his talent.

(c) The Los Angeles Times by Robert Hilburn