Pianist Steve Nieve, a band member and frequent collaborator with Elvis Costello since 1977, has worked as a solo artist in addition to his day job as an Attraction and an Imposter.
But since releasing his first album in 1980, he has rarely performed his solo work live.
"I have only done one or two gigs in major cities like New York and London," the composer said Monday.
That's about to change. Between symphonic gigs and shows with Costello — one of which brings them to Belk Theater Sept. 11 — Nieve will perform intimate sets with drummer Antoine "Jokka" Quessada. Nieve and Quessada play at 8 tonight at Evening Muse.
"He's got a band called Maybe," Nieve said of Quessada. "He describes his genre of music as romantic metal.
Obviously, with the two of us, I've asked him if he can play very gently."
Tonight's unique show will involve audience interaction and improvisation, Nieve said.
"I ask the audience to think of one note of music, and they give me notes at random," he explains of the Whose Line Is It Anyway?-style format. "Out of those notes, I create a theme, a piece of music for the evening."
Improvisation also may be a part of his show with Costello this month.
"You're going to hear a very wide range of Costello's work, from the early music to the things he's done most recently. That's the format I love the most — playing in duo with Elvis," he said. "There's just no telling where it might go. There's a lot more freedom in the fact that there is only two of you."
Like Costello, Nieve has focused on stretching musical boundaries in his classical piano work. In May, he and romantic partner Muriel Teodori released the all-star album Welcome to the Voice. The collision of opera, jazz and pop vocalists was 10 years in the making and features Costello, Sting and jazz singer Robert Wyatt with classically trained female vocalists such as Barbara Bonney.
Teodori's libretto focuses on a steelworker and his high-society lover. The less-refined male voices represent the working class, while the female singers play the upper crust.
"We did it in two parts," said Nieve, the project's composer and musical director. "The only thing I overdubbed was Elvis, who was in New York, and the jazz musicians. The piano, the quartet, the opera singers were done live in the studio in England. Sting wanted to be in the same room with anyone he was (singing) with.
"He put so much into it. At the end of the day, we'd go back to his house. He'd want to work around the piano, going over the music for the next day (of recording)."
Nieve's next project is bringing Voice to the stage. He and Teodori originally workshopped it in 2000 with a slightly different cast that included Ron Sexsmith.
"We're (now) concentrating on putting it on stage," he said, "hopefully with as many people in the recording cast as possible."