Elvis Costello Live With The Metropole Orkest - My Flame Burns Blue Review
By Patrick Muldowney
There is certain strangeness to reviewing an Elvis Costello product. In many ways, it seems that such an accomplished musician should defy analysis because he has assembled a lifetime of superior work in his field, which few, if any, could possibly match. The one reason I could muster to excuse my own position, as reviewer, is simple: as in literature, and other humanities, shouldn't the greatest musicians be discussed the most. For this reason, I am honored to be currently listening to, and writing about, Elvis Costello's most recent disc, which is sure to provide any casual listener with a new appreciation for his legend.
My Flame Burns Blue is a live performance from 2004, featuring the accompaniment of the Metropole Orkest, the only full-time jazz orchestra with a string section. As Costello states himself in the CD insert, the performance explains what he's "been doing during the last twelve years when I haven't had a guitar in my hands
" Although I was quite disappointed that he had not been recording segments for MTV's "Cribs", or making an appearance on "The Surreal Life", I guess it is forgivable that he was working with some of the most accomplished musicians in the world, such as Bill Frisell and Anne Sofie von Otter. For most musicians, his movement through rock (punk, rock, pop) would represent enough diversity, but this album shows his love for all music. Even though most of the arrangements would fall into the category of jazz, blues and classical music also have a noticed presence.
"Hora Decubitus" is the perfect beginning to the live performance. It may be the jazziest composition on the album, featuring the talents of the horn section. This incorporates Costello's lyrics and the music of Charles Mingus. The lyrics, written in New York City within days of 9/11, capture the hectic nature of urban culture, and reaffirm the beauty of a life that transcends the instinct to "smite", and take revenge when "the score is obscure." It must have been difficult to be so compassionate and rational at the time, yet it shows why Charles Mingus' widow would invite Elvis Costello to work with his compositions.
The Metropole Orkest, and its adaptations of some Elvis Costello classics, provides incredible insight into the universality of his songwriting. "Clubland" is a definite standout from the concert, with its Latin feel and unexpected change, I would dare to say they rock, and may have had me attempting a samba around The North Sea festival in my tuxedo that night, given the chance. The change, from Latin to circus waltz, does not necessarily match the Latin in intensity, but it sounds wonderful all the same. For "Watching the Detectives" the Orkest chooses the more standard jazz fare you might expect to accompany Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra. What makes this adaptation so enjoyable is how it begins with piano and saxophone reflective of the furtive activities of a detective, before expanding into a big band song. It definitely fits the jazz stereotype of finger snapping.
I would be remiss to ignore the softer elements of the concert, like "Almost Blue". This tune is 25 years old, and may be recognizable, but not as an Elvis Costello original, considering that it is his most recorded title. Originally written with "Chet Baker in mind," it is pleasing to hear Costello bring it to life. This also shows the benefit of having the Metropole Orkest, because they fully utilize the string section to set the mood of heartbreak, failure, and loss, present in the lyrics.
Elvis Costello is the type of artist who can measure your growth. His music extends from the angst and carelessness of youth to the reflection and intelligence of adulthood. My Flame Burns Blue, like many Elvis Costello albums, is a disc that will be kept for a lifetime. Due to its timelessness, it will be impossible to outgrow this live performance, and it will only gain appreciation throughout the years.
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Elvis Costello Live With The Metropole Orkest - My Flame Burns Blue
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