March 12, 2010

I fell in love with Jamie Cullum, a contemporary British jazz singer, because of his clever lyrics and his unconventional sound (no Harry Connick or Michael Buble), when I saw him on the Today Show promoting his album Twentysomething (“I’m an expert on Shakespeare and that’s a hell of a lot / but the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought”).

His new album is The Pursuit, and I’ve really been enjoying it. At very first listen I wasn’t sure because it opened up with the sort of smooth, big horns sound that he usually avoids, but mostly it’s an energetic, driving sort of album. And he continues his unconventional choices for cover songs: on The Pursuit, the big ones are a really sexy cover of Rihanna’s “Please Don’t Stop the Music” and “Not While I’m Around”, from Sweeney Todd. Yes, from Sweeney Todd. If you don’t know the musical, I’m sure it’s a lovely song in and of itself. If you do, I think Cullum gets across some of the weirdness, even in the seemingly lovely song…it’s in a strange key, and notes are held just a little too long and creepily.

Very strong.



January 11, 2009

I was introduced (by some morning program, I think) to Jamie Cullum and his music 3 or 4 years ago. He’s a British jazz vocalist and pianist; his first album in wide international release was “Twentysomething” and more recently he’s made “Catching Tales”.

Anyway, I caught some of his appearance in Bravo’s “Live at the Rehearsal Hall” last night, and it reminded me of all the reasons why I immediately liked his music and personality.

First: his voice. I’m so sick of contemporary jazz vocalists who sound exactly like the old ones, or exactly the same all the time, so polished. Cullum’s voice is scratchy, energetic, and, thank god, just different. He sounds like a rock singer who’s decided to sing jazz, and it’s exciting.

Second: choice of material. Yeah, there’re the classics…but then he also covers Pharrell, Jimi Hendrix, and lots of others. And even to the classics he brings something new: “I Could Have Danced All Night” gets a latin beat. And his original songs are impressive lyrically and musically: “I’m an expert on Shakespeare, and that’s a hell of a lot / But the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought” made me fall in love with him.

Finally, like the other things didn’t indicate this…his energy and inventiveness. And they were emphasized in the live performance. One moment, for example, was a transition between songs…He started strumming the strings on the piano and freestyling, vocally, and took off his shoes. What is this? Then the freestyle turned into his cover of “I Get A Kick Out of You”, and whenever the song paused before “kick”, he stomped the piano keyboard.

A lot of fun, and smart. That’s good music!