Sting, "If on a Winter's Night..."
Sting has said that his latest album, "If on a Winter's Night . . .," was inspired by his favorite cold-weather season. But what's surprising about the best cuts from the 15-track set is how much heat the Police frontman and his varied collaborators create. On "Christmas at Sea"-a Robert Louis Stevenson poem set to music by Sting and Scottish harpist Mary MacMaster-the players layer folky string-band licks over a percolating African-inspired groove, and "The Burning Babe"-based on a 16th-century poem by the Jesuit writer Robert Southwell -climaxes in a surprisingly fierce bit of sax-and-drums clatter by jazz veterans Kenny Garrett and Jack DeJohnette. Elsewhere, Sting recasts "The Hounds of Winter" (from his 1996 album "Mercury Falling") as a slow-mo bossa nova with percussion by Brazil's Cyro Baptista. And "Hurdy Gurdy Man" turns a bit of Schubert into a fireside lullaby.-Mikael Wood