Elvis Costello has followed his musical curiosity in a career spanning more than 28 years
Elvis Costello has followed his musical curiosity in a career spanning more than 28 years. He is perhaps best known for his performances with The Attractions, The Imposters and for concert appearances with pianist, Steve Nieve. His recordings include This Years Model, Imperial Bedroom, King of America, Blood and Chocolate, Spike, All This Useless Beauty, When I Was Cruel, North and The Delivery Man. However, he has also entered into acclaimed collaborations with Burt Bacharach, The Brodsky Quartet, Paul McCartney, Swedish mezzo-soprano, Anne Sofie von Otter, guitarist, Bill Frisell, composer, Roy Nathanson, The Charles Mingus Orchestra and record producer and songwriter, T Bone Burnett.
Costellos songs have been recorded by a great number of artistes. The list of performers reflects his interest in a wide range of musical styles: George Jones, Chet Baker, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Dusty Springfield, Robert Wyatt, Charles Brown, No Doubt, Solomon Burke, June Tabor, Howard Tate, the gospel vocal group, The Fairfield Four and the viol consort, Fretwork with the counter tenor, Michael Chance. In 2003 he began a songwriting partnership with his wife, the jazz pianist and singer, Diana Krall, resulting in six songs included in her highly successful album, The Girl In The Other Room.
During his career Costello has received several prestigious honours, including two Ivor Novello Awards for songwriting, a Dutch Edison Award with The Brodsky Quartet for ‘The Juliet Letters, the Nordoff-Robbins Silver Clef Award, a BAFTA for the music written with Richard Harvey for Alan Bleasdale television drama series, G.B.H. and a Grammy for I Still Have That Other Girl from his 1998 collaboration with Burt Bacharach, Painted From Memory.
Elvis Costello and The Attractions were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. During the same year he was awarded ASCAPs prestigious Founder’s Award. There have also been a number of Grammy nominations for his recent albums When I Was Cruel and The Delivery Man The late 2003 Deutsche Grammophon release,North – an album of piano ballads composed, orchestrated and conducted by Costello – retained the number one position on the Billboard Traditional Jazz Chart for five weeks.
In 2004 Costello was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song The Scarlet Tide, sung by Alison Krauss in the motion picture, Cold Mountain. The song was co-written with T Bone Burnett. Following the recording of The Delivery Man in Oxford and Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the spring of 2004, Elvis Costello and the Imposters embarked on an eleven-month tour on which they visited a number of cities for the first time, including Hobart, Sioux Falls, Bilbao and Istanbul. The Live In Memphis DVD was recorded at a club show at the Hi-Tone Cafe and issued in 2005 by Eagle Rock, followed shortly afterward by The Right Spectacle, a Demon/Rhino DVD compilation of video music clips and archive television appearance dating from the late 70s to the mid-90s, which were complimented by Costellos not entirely reverent commentary track.
The tour reached a climax in the summer of 2005 with a series of dates in which Costello shared the stage with Emmylou Harris, performing an almost entirely new repertoire. Multi-instrumentalist, Larry Campbell also joined the tour, playing guitar, pedal steel, mandolin and fiddle.
The final date was acclaimed appearance at the Newport Folk Festival which included an impromptu collaboration with Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and Imposters bassist, Davey Faragher on the Stanley Brothers Gathering Flowers For The Masters Bouquet and an electric encore performance of Bob DylanWhen I paint my masterpiece.
The summer of 2004 saw Costello presenting a series of concerts as part of the Lincoln Center Festival in New York City. Following concerts with the Metropole Orkest and The Imposters, The Brooklyn Philharmonic conducted by Brad Lubman gave the premiere concert performance of Il Sogno, Costellos first full-length orchestral work. The music was originally commissioned in 2000 by the Italian Dance Company, Aterbaletto, for their adaptation of Shakespeares A Midsummer Nights Dream. Following performances in Bologna with the Orchestra del Teatro Communale, the ballet was staged throughout Italy, Germany, France and Russia.
Il Sogno was subsequently recorded by The London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson-Thomas. The recording was released in the late 2004 by Deutsche Grammophon and stayed at the top of Billboards Contemporary Classical Charts for 14 weeks. Elvis Costello has also been commissioned by The Royal Danish Opera to compose an opera based on the life of Hans Christian Andersen. The Secret Songs, a work-in-progress cycle, extracted from the opera, was given its first performance in Copenhagen in October 2005 to an appreciative audience response and enthusiastic reviews.
Costello sang both of the leading male roles; Andersen and that of the showman, P.T. Barnum, while the leading female role of Jenny Lind was taken by Swedish soprano, Gisela Stille. The small ensemble included Steve Nieve on piano, Bent Clausen on vibraphone and banjo, Amit Sen on cello and multi-instrumentalist, Bebe Risenfors playing bass clarinet, tuba, trumpet and double bass. The fully produced opera will be premiered, in March 2007.
In January 2006, Elvis Costello will be a featured artist at the Sydney Festival in Australia. He will once again present a series of contrasting concerts. The first re-unites Costello with the Brodsky Quartet for excerpts from The Juliet Letters and a number of other songs. In the second half, Steve Nieve, double bassist, Greg Cohen and soprano, Antoinette Halloran will join Costello and the Brodsky Quartet for several newly arranged excerpts from The Secret Songs. Costello and Nieve will then give a second concert in which they will draw on some of Costellos rarely performed compositions.
The festival appearances will conclude with two concerts with the Sydney Symphony conducted by Alan Broadbent at the Opera House. The programe will consist of a suite from Il Sogno, followed by a number of Costellos songs arranged for orchestra by Costello, Sy Johnson, Bill Frisell, Vince Mendoza and Steve Nieve. The programme will also include compositions by Charles Mingus and Billy Strayhorn with Costellos lyrics and songs written by Costello and Burt Bacharach for the album, Painted from Memory.
Many of these compositions also feature on, My Flame Burns Blue, the live recording of Costellos performance with the Metropole Orkest at the 2004 North Sea Jazz Festival that will be released in early 2006 by Deutsche Grammophon coupled with the suite of Il Sogno highlights. Between late March and early May, Costello, Nieve and conductor, Alan Broadbent, will be presenting a similar programme throughout the U.S., including appearances with San Francisco, Chicago, Houston and Baltimore Symphony orchestras.
Elvis Costello and the Imposters made their South American concert debut in October 2005 with appearances in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires and had planned to record again in the spring of 06. However, following the Katrina catastrophe, Costello was given the opportunity to perform at two benefit concerts with the great New Orleans piano player, songwriter and producer, Allen Toussaint, They had first collaborated in the 1980s, when Toussaint produced a commissioned version of Yoko Onos Walking on Thin Ice. He later provided a wonderful piano part for Deep, Dark Truthful Mirror, a track on the album, Spike. Now, finding that Toussaint had temporarily re-located to New York City, following the loss of his home in the flood, Costello approached the Toussaint about a more substantial collaboration.
Following a short but intense period of writing they entered the studio with a combination of The Imposters lead by Toussaint at the piano and Steve Nieve playing Hammond B3. Toussaints regular guitar player, Anthony Brown and his horn section also augmented the band. The River In Reverse was recorded in two weeks and produced by Joe Henry. Sessions began at Sunset Sound, Hollywood and concluded at Piety Street Studios in New Orleans. It is thought to be one of the first major recording project to take place in the city since the Katrina disaster. The album will include renditions of a number of songs from the Toussaint catalogue, including Whos Gonna Help Brother Get Further? and Freedom For The Stallion.
The title track is one of the recent Costello compositions to feature a characteristic Toussaint horn arrangement. Ascension Day is Toussaints beautiful minor key variation of Professor Longhairs Tipitiina with new words by Costello, while International Echo is the work of both songwriters.