My Flame Burns Blue**
Il Sogno (Suite) *
Elvis Costello · Steve Nieve
London Symphony Orchestra *
Michael Tilson Thomas *
Int. Release 01 Mar. 2006
CD DDD 0289 477 5961 4 GH 2
CD DDD GH 2
** Live from the North Sea Festival
Elvis Costello presents old and new songs in a unique "big-band orchestra" setting – recorded live at North Sea Jazz Festival (plus a bonus-disc edit of Il Sogno) – here is his first rock 'n' jazz album!
. . . three tunes into the show, the experience began to feel like something you'd want to go on forever, hearing Costello go through his entire huge repertoire with new, evocative interpretations. He's so good, he probably could even pull off a symphonic version of "Pump It Up."
. . . Costello was always a classicist in the broadest sense. We just didn't know it yet. The intervening years have made it clear, though, and in his latest incarnation as a soigne balladeer, Costello has fused his taste for intricate, emotianally fraught lyrics with a tender melodic vein. It suits him down to the ground.
The latest and most interesting addition to the small club of crossover rockers . . . a true breakthrough recording . . . a fascinating melange of jazz, Latin pop and modernist tonal essays that at times approach the edginess of Bela Bartók or the noirish qualities of hard-boiled detective movies. Indeed, what's striking about this collection is how well it works as an album, like a formal program of art songs wafting in the alcoholic haze of a smoky, pre-tobaccolawsuit club . . . Indeed, this collection is an almost eerie re-creation of the kind of 1950s nonrock music that seems lost in the mists of time . . . If you're sick of the same old, "My Flame Burns Blue" is a pretty good way to break out of your rut.
Costello's 'Flame' burns brightly
The latest and most interesting addition to the small club of crossover rockers is Elvis Costello . . . his own good musical sense and his seemingly innate knowledge of the improvisational "rules" of jazz have eased Mr. Costello's crossover journey and made "Il Sogno" a pleasant and interesting experience, if not an earth-shattering one. In his latest crossover CD, "My Flame Burns Blue," just issued by Deutsche Grammophon and featuring live performances with the Metropole Orkest, Mr. Costello may have created a true breakthrough recording . . . With this CD, he just might find his new audience . . . "My Flame Burns Blue" is a pretty good way to break out of your rut.
. . . Costello's voice still towers, especially on the album's numerous ballads . . .
While "My Flame" highlights Costello's experimental tendencies as an arranger, its bonus disc ¿ an often stunning symphonic suite excerpted from his first purely instrumental work, "Il Sogno" ¿ foregrounds his ambitions as a composer. Both are executed with the finesse and enthusiasm that, after nearly 30 years, still make Costello essential listening.
"My Flame Burns Blue" . . . shows just how wide and variable Costello's repertoire has grown . . . "My Flame" highlights Costello's experimental tendencies as an arranger, its bonus disc ¿ an often stunning symphonic suite excerpted from his first purely instrumental work, "Il Sogno" ¿ foregrounds his ambitions as a composer. Both are executed with the finesse and enthusiasm that, after nearly 30 years, still make Costello essential listening.
Elvis Costello builds another strong case for his prowess as a vibrant jazz vocal stylist.
. . . there is not shortage of risk, grandeur or fun, an ingenious, moving combination . . . Costello is up there . . . singing with a force and clarity as big and regal as the music around him.
Just when it seemed Elvis Costello couldn't possibly have any new tricks up his sleeve, along comes his double-disc set to reconfirm his status as the most cunning musical magician of the past quarter-century . . . as the ever-provocative father of inspired reinvention, Elvis is king.
Vielleicht ist Elvis Costello der letzte Vertreter der aussterbenden Gattung "musikalisches Universalgenie": Rock und Pop kann er natürlich, Jazz und Swing plus Easy Listening auch, und selbst in der Klassik hat sich der Brite inzwischen Anerkennung erspielt. Auf dem Livemitschnitt "My Flame Burns Blue" (Deutsche Grammophon) sind alle Facetten von Costellos Talent in erstklassigen Jazz- und Big-Band-Arrangements zu hören.
. . . [Costello] entpuppte sich als fulminanter Jazz-Vokalist.
Vom Punker zum Jazz-Chansonnier: Costellos stilistischer Routenplaner spielt laufend verrückt ¿ und es hört sich gut an . . . Dass er auch als Klassik-Neutöner beachtlich abschneidet, zeigt sein Shakespeare-Ballett "Il Sogno": Costello goes Gershwin.
Er tut Erstaunliches . . . Die Art und Weise, wie er seine Werke hier zum Klingen bringt, zeigt einmal mehr, wie großartig Costellos Songs sind, welche Tiefen darin stecken. wie unberechenbar sie sind, aber auch wie facettenreich, und vor allem auch, welche enorme Flexibilität Costello an den Tag legt, ist er doch unbestritten einer der vielseitigsten und kreativsten zeitgenössischen Musiker. Die Arbeits- und Wirkungsweise von Frank Zappa lässt grüßen.
My Flame Burns Blue
After three widely acclaimed projects on Deutsche Grammophon - a selection of sophisticated jazz and rock ballades with Anne Sofie von Otter, For the Stars, a collection of intimate, piano-led ballads for the album North and his first full-length orchestral score, Il Sogno - Elvis Costello will issue a fourth exciting project on the Yellow Label in 2006: My Flame Burns Blue, a live recording of his performance with the Metropole Orkest at the 2004 North Sea Jazz Festival. The album consists of songs arranged for voice, piano, and orchestra by Costello, Mike Mossman, Bill Frisell, Sy Johnson, Vince Mendoza, and Steve Nieve. It features several unrecorded titles and some of Costello's well-known songs in surprising settings, and will also include compositions by Charles Mingus and Billy Strayhorn with Costello's lyrics and a song written by Costello and Burt Bacharach. This release, which Costello claims "may explain what I've been doing during the last twelve years when I haven't had an electric guitar in my hands", will be coupled with a suite of Il Sogno highlights as a Bonus CD. In January 2006, Costello and his long-time pianist Steve Nieve will begin a worldwide tour of symphony halls to collaborate with high-profile orchestras and bring the programme back to the performance stage. French journalist Baptiste Piégay used this release as an occasion to follow in the tracks of a multifaceted music master named Elvis Costello.
Every artist has the right to do what he pleases, but he also has a duty: that of re-creating himself. What if Picasso's "blue" had been his only period or colour - would he still be the genius we all acknowledge worldwide? Reinventing yourself does not mean renouncing your previous work, nor does it mean pretending to be someone you are not. The shedding of an artist's skin is best summed up in blues master Lightnin' Hopkins's motto: "Whatever you is, be that." It's a question of honesty, of seeing that what you want comes about. This is something basic in the unique mind and spirit of Elvis Costello: singular and unflinching - open to an infinite series of experiments.
Looking at Costello's course over the last 15 years reveals that his musical mobility (changing and evolving, not shifting) is nothing new. Not a day has gone by when he didn't breathe in some new idea from the vast resources of music history, leading him to the crossroads of a new and not often travelled path. In 1990 Elvis Costello recorded a theme by Charles Mingus and soon began collaborating with the Jazz Workshop and Mingus's widow Sue. That led him to write a song cycle for mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter (Three Distracted Women) - with whom he collaborated again on their album For the Stars - and When I Was Cruel, where the freedom of jazz met raw rock 'n' roll, also using rhythmic loops. Then came North, a beautiful musical journey from bereavement to rapture along the lines of Sinatra's torch songs; Il Sogno; and the recently released record with Marian McPartland (Piano Jazz) . . . you may draw the conclusion yourself: the suppleness of his pen is unequalled, and there are virtually no fences around his art.
The twists and turns of Costello's life in music are not surprising given the variety of great musicians he's worked with, such as guitarist Marc Ribot (a man interested in musical experiments, including the sounds of Cuba and the legendary sax player Albert Ayler; he's also played with Tom Waits), drummer Jim Keltner (Ry Cooder, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, but also with jazzman Gabor Szabo), or more recently saxophone player Lee Konitz (on North) . . . It would be downright criminal to overlook the importance of Steve Nieve: from his work with The Attractions down to his own solo albums, Costello's long-time pianist has never stopped discovering unknown musical continents. Elvis Costello's 1995 tour with Nieve has no doubt been crucial to him: face to face with his own bare work every night, and challenged to make it new each time the spotlights were switched on, he must certainly have derived from it a renewed confidence in his art as a singer.
In 2000 an Italian ballet company, Aterballetto, asked him to write the score for a show based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. From the demanding task - being true to Shakespeare's text while fitting his music in with the choreography, as well as producing a long instrumental piece - Costello created something in his own image:Il Sogno is free, swinging and classic, as if Debussy and Gershwin holding hands were dancing in this brilliant parade of sounds and feelings.
Despite different musical influences and sound textures, North and Il Sogno have a very close relation. Like puzzle pieces, Costello's compositions over the last twelve years make up a coherent picture, that of a passionate man, in love with music, with an indestructible faith in this ancient art, which he serves with a young boy's joy. In this sense, Il Sogno and My Flame Burns Blue are not accidents (even though those do happen . . .). They should rather be seen (and heard) as free variations on personal themes and questions. In other words, from the loving disquiet of Can You Be True? to the brass of some parts of Il Sogno, there is but a single step, a side-step of course . . . just listen to Episode of Blonde, re-arranged for brass instruments for the occasion by Vince Mendoza (the Metropole Orkest's conductor), and you will understand that a score of broken harmonic moods is not to be found in Il Sogno alone.
There is no split-personality pretence here, no incongruous whims verging on ubiquity. If Elvis Costello seems to be everywhere at the same time, it's because he cannot think of music any other way - and because music, and this is only a statement of fact, really is everywhere. My Flame Burns Blue, Live with the Metropole Orkest sounds like an actual artist's declaration of principle, summing up the fundamental basis of his art: a keen sense of sound in space, pouring one's soul into whatever form and moulding it anew, going for the ever-yet unsung song. Picking up his songs with the unheard side up, Costello performs a revealing new mapping-out - and not a remix - of songs he has travelled with under different skies (Clubland played here like an exuberant jazz piece streaked with Latin colours), or songs he has pared down for the occasion (Favourite Hour or the tantalizing God Give Me Strength).
Using various resonances and colours and angles - being a true jazzman - he demonstrates how the most straightforward pop song may gain an unsuspected dimension: like this version of Watching the Detectives, re-arranged by Costello after the style of a 1950s television crime-show theme. One feels here that this is the outcome of a many-faceted approach: writing songs for other voices than his (Anne Sofie von Otter, Charles Brown, but also Howard Tate and Solomon Burke), being involved in the arrangements of his albums (in which such different people have taken part as Bill Frisell, Steve Nieve or the great Vince Mendoza, whose work with Joni Mitchell for her recent Both Sides Now got quite a lot of attention).
A testimony to his humility, he can slip into music written by others yet remain muted: by giving voice to Mingus's angular harmonies (for Hora Decubitus) or to the blue billows of Billy Strayhorn ( My Flame Burns Blue), Duke Ellington's key partner, Costello does more than honour their memory. He summons their spirit, brings them forth, and literally interprets them, in a roundabout way, in a songwriter's way. Making the material his own implies a dialogue: there lie the riches that pour forth. This talent for adopting new musical approaches is at the source of a river fed by many streams. Made up of all these experiments, encounters, ancient dreams and present visions, Live with the Metropole Orkest shows this (blue) flame burning without wavering - and illuminating a matchless repertoire.