Sting, Symphonicities: Live in Berlin [UMG and Deutschegrammophon]

Sting’s string thing arose from an offer to perform his music with the Chicago Symphony, leading him to summon a handful of top arrangers to select and recast his songs for full orchestra.
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Sting’s string thing arose from an offer to perform his music with the Chicago Symphony, leading him to summon a handful of top arrangers to select and recast his songs for full orchestra. What followed was his recent inspired studio CD, Symphonicities, and this impressive 25-song DVD/CD package, from a subsequent tour. The concentrated nature of Sting’s music makes it the perfect foil for philharmonic treatment, especially with Sting’s exceptional sextet—which includes his longtime guitarist Dominic Miller and New York jazz vet Ira Coleman on upright—lighting the way. From the Police file, “King of Pain” is a highpoint, rich in dynamics and subtle reharmonizations. Sting solo hits “Fragile,” “Fields of Gold,” and “Englishman in New York” also benefit from rhythmic and harmonic manipulation and invention—the latter with guest saxman Branford Marsalis.

Ultimately, it’s the lesser-known pieces that really resonate. “I Hung My Head” and “This Cowboy Song” are rife with strains of Copland-esque Americana, while the 6/8 lilt of “The End of the Game” features Coleman at his most mobile. Conversely, the dark theme of “Russians,” the film-noir tonality of “Tomorrow We’ll See,” and the poignant pace of “Why Should I Cry for You?” simmer in style. (On a side note, the inky, low-brass-buffeted “We Work the Black Seam” is most missed among the four studio CD tracks not performed here.) And while Sting (in good voice throughout) thumps no bottom, Coleman, the three-bass section, and the arrangers all magnify the compositional brilliance of many of his bass lines.

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