Monday, February 24, 2003


Album: ‘All This Time’ (Live)
Artist: Sting
CD: November, 2001
Number of Discs: 1
Label: A&M 4931802

Whoa! What’s a lightweight like Sting, who sells albums by the bucketful, doing in a place like NFE? And not long after Messiaen, Ferneyhough and Cage? Well, criminally un-hip though it may be, I like a good deal of his material. The jazz police (pardon the pun) may balk at Branford Marsalis, the late Kenny Kirkland and a host of other stellar performers hitching their wallets to a commercial artist, but some of the results have been enjoyable examples of intelligent song writing and instrumentation. Take a listen to ‘Bring on the Night’, the first live double CD, if you doubt me. Kenny G meets the Stones it ain’t.

This particular set was recorded in Italy on - of all days - 11 September 2001. Still, with a superb touring band like this and some good material, how (musically) can you go wrong? The answer, on the whole, is that you can't - given strong performances and workable arrangements, which certainly exist here. Having said that, the original version of the title track, 'All This Time', is one of my favourites. Not being of a conservative temperament, I was actually looking forward to another take. This re-working is laid back verging on weak, however. It lacks the tight orchestration and emotional punch of the ‘Soul Cages’ version. Melody, colour and drive are not elements to compromise in a piece which depends upon them.

Most of the other songs fare better, however. Around half are re-arranged, Police numbers included. Live performance allows the material to breathe and the band extemporises well (within the limits that clearly exist in a context such as this). It is particularly good to hear Jason Rebello again. His piano fusion debut in the '80s, 'A Clearer Day', remains a classic. Indeed I'd recommend you to listen to any of his albums and to take in his solo or band appearances when you get the chance. A breathtakingly underrated talent. Chris Botti’s suave trumpet is also worth the entry price.

So although he may appear a little inadvisably pompous at times, Sting is to be credited for giving a much wider audience to some fabulous musicians, and for showing that songs can be thoughtfully crafted and accessible at the same time: a rare gift in a world where popular music has mostly been wrecked by the suits and marketing geeks. Not quite as strong and atmospheric as the 'Bring On The Night', but a worthy album nonetheless.

A good one to relax to between more demanding musical diets, dare I say.

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