Elvis is a historic name in rock music. It conjures up images of the King himself, shuffling across the stage while singin’ You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog. It is also a name that, when followed by Costello, can easily be associated with cool. Elvis Costello is a man that has inspired musicians over the decades, from his late 1970s roots as a more independent artist to his transformation into jazz over the past twelve years.
I’ve got a decent library of his work, primarily on vinyl and primarily from his early to mid rock days. This Year’s Model is a favorite of mine not just for the music but also for the album cover picturing a young Costello in his traditional black-rimmed glasses filming with a then not-too-retro camera. I fell in love with “This Year’s Girl” from that album the first time I heard it. I’ve also got Armed Forces, Taking Liberties, and Punch the Clock filed away in my 12-inch vinyl section under ‘C’. Not to mention countless singles, a bootleg on vinyl, and several other LPs.
I am much less familiar with Costello’s collected jazz works and was quite excited when My Flame Burns Blue appeared in my hands, which Costello presents in two-discs. The first is a live set from the 2004 North Sea Jazz Festival with the Metropole Orkest, conducted by Vince Mendoza. Accompanying Costello is Steve Nieve on piano and melodica. The second is comprised of excerpts from “Il Sogno” Suite, what the CD lists as “Costello’s Ballet after Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
Costello has changed little in his vocal styling since his early days. Whether you’re listening to “This Year’s Girl” from This Year’s Model or “Tears, Tears and More Tears” from The River In Reverse (Costello’s collaboration with jazz pianist Allen Toussaint), the voice is distinctly that of Elvis Costello. While the voice and the man have matured over the past four decades, the primary change comes in the music itself. Accompanied now by the 52-piece orchestra on the first disc, Costello wows his audience with original lyrics to the legendary Thelonious Monk’s “Hora Decubitus”. Summation: a major change from his early days in rock.
From collaborations with the widow of Monk and rework of Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count”, to new versions of Costello originals, Elvis takes this live performance to a new level by mixing his rock roots with his newer jazz style. In “Episode of Blonde” this is especially apparent as Costello picks up the tempo while utilizing a big band sound behind vocals drawn from his rock past—making it an almost instant all-time favorite jazz vocal tune, a genre of which I am not too fond. “God Give Me Strength” is from the original collaborative work between Costello and Burt Bacharach. “Il Sogno” Suite (Disc 2) is another genre-buster for Costello as it is the performance of his first major classical score.
I feel, in many ways, Elvis Costello will be the Frank Sinatra of my generation’s musically inclined and culturally adept. His versatility both between and within genres has proven him to be one of the most sought after artists of our time and the generation before our time. And he’s one of the most stunning creators and performers of music today. You shouldn’t need an album like My Flame Burns Blue to tell you that, but give it to us anyway – we don’t mind listening.
This review was originally published June 22, 2006 on the old version of FensePost.
Deutsche Grammophon [CD, 2006]
Disc 1: Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival, 2004
1. Hora Decubitus
2. Favourite Hour
3. That’s How You Got Killed Before
4. Upon A Veil Of Midnight Blue
6. Almost Blue
7. Speak Darkly, My Angel
8. Almost Ideal Eyes
9. Can You Be True?
10. Put Away Forbidden Playthings
11. Episode Of Blonde
12. My Flame Burns Blue (Blood Count)
13. Watching The Detectives
14. God Give Me Strength
Disc 2: “Il Sogno” Suite
3. Puck 1
4. The Court
5. Workers’ Playtime
6. Oberon & Titania
7. The Conspiracy Of Oberon & Puck
8. Puck 2
9. The Identity Parade
10. The Face Of Bottom
11. The Spark Of Love
13. Oberon Humbled
14. Twisted – Entangled
15. The Fairy & The Ass
17. The Play
18. The Wedding