Brand New Day
Houston, USJones Hall For The Performing Arts
With Lili Haydn

A 'New Day' Sting's way - Singer's standard jazz-pop style has a way of sounding fresh every time he's onstage...

Although Sting's new album is titled 'Brand New Day', the album and its namesake tour aren't new in terms of style or approach.

Sting is still the English country squire who's shifted from the reggae-rock of his Police days to an eclectic, jazzy and sophisticated pop blend for his durable solo career.

That's not to say his almost two-hour, sold-out show at Jones Hall Tuesday night was stale. Rather, it was reliably effective in a way that pleased Sting's staunch fans, many of whom had paid $125 per ticket.

After violinist-singer Lili Haydn's half-hour opening set of energized ethereality, Sting emerged wearing baggy black pants and a close-fitting black leather jacket. His stage decor had a tasteful minimalism accented by handsome lighting.

Sting's eight-member band included three female singers who rarely got to sing. Mostly they shimmied in place like an old Motown group - mere miniskirted ornamentation.

Longtime guitar sideman Dominic Miller had chances to shine, but the standout musicians were the dexterous Jason Rebello on keyboards and the superb Chris Botti on trumpet. The latter accented jaunty jazz (Brand New Day) with fierce intensity and smoky-nightclub jazz (Perfect Love...Gone Wrong) with muted bluesiness.

Even that song evolved into a rousing instrumental jam at the end. Sting smartly varied the dynamics, not just in the set list but within song arrangements.

The lovely 'Fields of Gold' was the sole soft, reflective number, though the new 'Tomorrow We'll See' - from a Parisian transvestite's point of view - had the soulful urban melancholia of an Edward Hopper painting.

Sting maintained a steady bass groove while singing in fine voice, often holding notes or repeating lines with a single, long breath.

He had an easy-going rapport with the crowd - chatting and joking without overdoing it - and often exhorted fans to clap or sing along.

But apart from the obligatory 'Roxanne', Sting rarely rocked out. In fact, he said recently that rock ''can die, for all I care.''

Yet much of his music is fueled by a rock vitality; the R&B for 1987's 'We'll Be Together' was propelled by Miller's guitar-driven fervor.

That was one of only a few reinterpretations, although Sting also adopted a Tom Waits pose and raspiness for 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'.

Along with such chestnuts, Sting played seven songs from his new album, starting with the moody set-opener, 'A Thousand Years'.

For the countrified 'Fill Her Up', hometown boy Lyle Lovett sauntered onstage to sing a few lines with Sting, then departed as it segued into a galvanizing gospel finish.

Haydn also returned to help make the new 'Desert Rose' even more dramatically insistent with her frenzied playing.

Beyond 'Roxanne' - which had a strong chant-and-response finish with the crowd - the Police tunes included 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', 'When the World is Running Down' and a powerful encore of 'Every Breath You Take', a song that somehow never grows old.

Perhaps that's the measure of Sting himself at this point. At 48, the former Gordon Sumner may have found a musical comfort zone, but he's maintaining his focus, not letting up and not letting his fans down.

(c) The Houston Chronicle by Bruce Westbrook