When the ever-mercurial Costello joined up with the Metropole Orkest for a series of concerts in 2004, he didn't have a set list. He had a repertoire. My Flame Burns Blue, a live recording from one of their Hague performances, shows just how wide and variable Costello's repertoire has grown from his bygone days as a scrappy rock upstart.
Once his tempo-hopping arrangement of Charles Mingus' "Hora Decubitus" hurls the Orkest into an angular blues, the night elegantly winds everywhere from the gripping, maudlin soap opera of "Speak Darkly, My Angel" (written for mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and the innovative Brodsky Quartet) and the growling big-band Latin shuffle of "Episode of Blonde" to the torchy title track, Costello's drowsy adaptation of Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count."
More familiar Costello compositions are also here, but completely reinvented: "Clubland" is a dizzying waltz; "Watching the Detectives" is cleverly made over as a TV crime show theme; and the once hushed tear-jerk of "Almost Blue" gets wrapped in lush melodrama.
While My Flame highlights Costello's experimental tendencies as an arranger, its bonus disc — an often stunning symphonic suite excerpted from his first purely instrumental work, Il Sogno — foregrounds his ambitions as a composer. Both are executed with the finesse and enthusiasm that, after nearly 30 years, still make Costello essential listening.