Sting chooses the risk worth taking...
In Sting's latest, 'Brand New Day', he stamps an exclamation point on his reputation as a jazz-influenced musical risk-taker.
So it wasn't a surprise when his 'Brand New Day' tour, last night at the Providence Performing Arts Center, put Sting on stage with Chris Botti, a jazz trumpeter, and he sang one song with hip-hop lyrics and another in which the protagonist is a woman.
It was a surprise when Sting so easily blended the new into the old. The pious sound of 'A Thousand Years' gave way to explosive African drums, Botti's acute trumpet and Sting's huge pop hooks in 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'.
It helps that Sting is as engaging to watch as he is to listen to. He still has ample range, and it seems on his new work he wants to keep it that way. He lets his pop hooks unfold with a quiet articulation, like he's come down from the coffee-bar stage to sing at your table.
The exception was 'Roxanne'. What a terrific surprise when Sting took on the Police hit and all but nailed it, even if he let his three female backup singers deal with the song's signature high notes.
Botti's an accomplished solo trumpeter, and he and Sting were most effective on Sting's newest work. Sting's pop-oriented fans may not like its smooth-jazz texture. Still, it's tough to pick flaws in pop experimentation that's rich with instrumental and vocal melodies, but manages to not sound like everything else on Top-40 radio.
One of Sting's newer songs, 'Fill Her Up', a gospel-pop take on country, did swing too far to the left, with wide-open guitar and vocal choruses that roam far away from Sting's jazz-oriented work. Botti even traded his trumpet for a tambourine for the song.
But further criticism is simply nitpicking.
No matter how many genres he bends, Sting could command a venue five times the size of this one. His latest work seals that point.
Anyway, Sting has already gained a sort of artistic immunity, where criticism of his musical eclecticism doesn't matter.
In that way, it made sense that 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' was the most playful song. Sting dropped his voice to make it sound like he was singing through a rusty tin can for the work from his 1985 solo debut, where he tossed his music with reggae and jazz and was backed by an ensemble cast of black jazz musicians.
Here, Sting seemed to revel in his ability to pull successfully from many styles with his anthem, 'Englishman In New York'. He performed it with a rolling improv middle section and the crowd singing the hook: ''Be yourself, no matter what they say.''
(c) The Providence Journal by Vaughn Watson