Monday, August 17, 2015

Bring on the Night

There's a press conference in Paris. Sting is with his newly assembled group of jazz musicians, about to embark on his first tour without his old Police band mates.  The music recorded for his 1985 debut album Dream of the Blue Turtles sounds nothing like the older stuff.  This makes A & M Records very nervous.  A lot is riding on that opening night.  The front man doesn't seem the least bit concerned, and is as cocky as ever in his retort when a journalist addresses him as "Gordon".

Also at the conference is director Michael Apted, obtaining footage for his 1986 documentary BRING ON THE NIGHT, which is indeed named after a song by the Police.  In a career that includes both independent and big Hollywood films, Apted is as his best when creating cinema verite.  His UP series, which began in the '60s and follows a group of Brits every seven years from age seven on, are some of the most fascinating documents on record.  The genesis of a new musical outfit are what he and Sting are highlighting,  not the peak or end of a career(s) as in earlier concert films/music docs.

They succeed wonderfully. The improvisational feel of the movie allows the viewer (and listener) the pleasures afforded one who may find themselves wandering a huge Paris chateau/rehearsal space, happening upon the musicians as they perfect timekeeping and phrasing.  All under the direction of their fearless leader, of course.  Sting is exacting, but patient with his band and Apted never shows him pitching fits or being too cutting.  There are many fun and silly moments as when everyone breaks out into The Flintstones theme, or playing around with the pronunciation of the word "chasm".  Or belting out a wine fueled rendition of  "New York New York" at lunch.

Each player is interviewed throughout.  Saxophonist Branford Marsalis is amusingly direct, explaining how he is not a celebrity, and does not seek such adulation.  Kenny Kirkland,  a keyboardist who'd worked with Marsalis earlier, is more humble, and excited to be a part of the ensemble.  Drummer Omar Hakim, who'd worked with Weather Report and Dire Straits, ably reinterprets some Police tunes with his own unique stick work and seems cautiously optimistic about opening night.  Daryl Jones had played bass for Miles Davis and perhaps that experience prompted a bit of brio, as Apted captures him wondering aloud if the group will allow equal contributions from all members.   Backup singers Janice Pendarvis and Dolette McDonald are also quite confident, worrying only about how they'll move about in their high heels during the tour.

Sting briefly recalls key (solitary) moments in his days with his old group, but nothing specific as to that experience. You'll have to watch another doc for that.  By the time he'd sat down for BRING ON THE NIGHT, Sting was one of the biggest musical acts in the world, already had a rich career.  Perhaps he knew he would go on to even greater success as he ponders his new gig.  Everyone else wasn't so sure.  Manager Miles Copeland makes his own blunt assessment of the realities of the group's pecking order and how he feels about the selection of their stage apparel.

The later scenes show the Big Night.  The audience at first looks unimpressed, but are soon to their feet, singing along not only to the chestnuts but the newer tunes ("50% hits and 50% unfamiliar").  Intercutting numbers like "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" is footage of the birth of Sting's son Joe, set to the album version of the song "Russians".  This seems to be a questionable accompaniment at first, but it of course includes the line "I hope the Russians love their children too."

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