Monday, February 9, 2009

Elvis Costello 24: My Flame Burns Blue and Piano Jazz

Despite the moderate success of both his new work and the back catalog, the ever-contrarian Costello insisted on releasing albums that showed off his talents in genres outside those which had brought him notoriety. Only the faithful had purchased Il Sogno, the score for a ballet based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, released the same day as The Delivery Man. Perhaps because of the lack of interest, a “suite” of music from the recording was a bonus disc added to My Flame Burns Blue, which collected various highlights from a pair of shows recorded in 2004 at a Scandinavian jazz festival with a large orchestra. These concerts featured new arrangements of older songs along with some neo-jazz-cum-classical pieces he’d rarely been able to perform without such a big ensemble behind him.
The selections are a little jarring. “Favourite Hour” and “Almost Blue” benefit from full arrangements, but the evil circus vibe of “Clubland” kills the mood. His commissioned lyrics for melodies by the likes of Mingus and Strayhorn may spark heretofore untapped interest in those composers. And of course, there’s yet another version of “Watching The Detectives” to add to the pile.
Infinitely more enjoyable is Piano Jazz, which documents his appearance on Marian McPartland’s popular NPR show a year earlier. The two disparate performers discuss old songs—and some of Elvis’s—in between performing them, and the mutual respect comes through the speakers clearly. A few of the standards will be familiar to fans who’d already indulged in various reissues, and these versions are surprisingly welcome to the canon.

Elvis Costello My Flame Burns Blue (2006)—
Elvis Costello & Marian McPartland Piano Jazz (2005)—

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