Blue Turtles
Charlotte, USCharlotte Coliseum

Sting, Jazz musicians at Charlotte Coliseum...

England's favourite bleached-blond Police man breezed into the Charlotte Coliseum Friday night, bringing his dream of blue turtles and jazzy-pop to a scanty crowd of about 6,000.

After eight years as bassist, singer and main songwriter for the million-selling pop trio the Police, Sting is making his first solo tour with four standout jazz musicians.

Sting steamed through nearly two hours of exciting music, backed by Miles Davis sidemen Darryl Jones on bass and Kenny Kirkland on keyboards, former Weather Report drummer Omar Hakim, New Orleans sax man Branford Marsalis (brother of Grammy-winning trumpeter Wynton Marsalis) and backup vocalists Dollette McDonald and Janice Pendarvis.

'Shadows in the Rain', a soul-jazz remake of a Police tune off the 'Zenyatta Mondatta' album, kicked off the show as a herd of teenagers rushed the stage screaming.

Dressed in baggy white pants and a white pin-striped jacket, Sting handled guitar chores while roaming up and down a tall staircase fitted with raised platforms for drum kit and keyboards.

As if to win the crowd over with the familiar before venturing onto new turf, the group followed up with the Police's 'Driven to Tears' - complete with a raucous jam in which Jones joined Sting for some fancy footwork at the edge of the stage.

Once band members got down to business with the bluesy 'Consider Me Gone', they ran through almost every tune from Sting's jazz-flavoured solo album 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles', which is No. 2 this week on Billboard's album chart.

Sting's grainy voice was rich with melancholy on 'Children's Crusade', a song drawing parallels between World War I soldiers and young drug users. The loping, reggae beat of 'Love Is The Seventh Wave' carried a more urgent, pleading vocal.

It was refreshing to hear the band in a looser, more free-and-easy groove than what comes across on the album. Everyone seemed more willing to stretch - as when band members added an expanded rhythmic fullness to 'We Work The Black Seam', one of the high points of the evening.

The crack jazz players have helped Sting successfully reach beyond his Police work into a jazzier pop mode that's accessible enough to keep 14-year-olds singing along while still offering some challenging music. Solos by Marsalis and Kirkland were particularly engaging.

Marsalis's soprano sax took on eerie shades of Hitchcock during 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', and Kirkland's keyboards were cool and swirling one minute, steaming with soul the next. The Jones-Hakim rhythm team kept things moving in style. Hakim even managed to create real emotional tension with a drum solo during 'I Burn For You' - something no arena rock drummer I've seen could ever dream of doing.

Though the crowd reserved its wildest response for the Police tunes - the encore of 'Every Breath You Take' was enough to get everyone on their feet - 'Fortress Around Your Heart' and many of the other new tunes were obviously familiar to all. It was all the ushers could do to keep the mostly teenage crowd near the stage seated. At one point, kids came pouring over the seats behind me - trying to dodge ushers for a closer look at their idol.

(c) The Charlotte Observer by Kathy Haight