Jamie Cullum returns to straight-ahead jazz on new CD

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Posted: Feb 03, 2015 8:25 PM
Jamie Cullum returns to straight-ahead jazz on new CD

NEW YORK (AP) — Singer-pianist Jamie Cullum has always been a "record nerd" at heart.

And it's that passion for digging up obscure recordings that distinguishes his new CD "Interlude" from other retro "standards" collections.

Since his breakthrough 2005 album "Twentysomething," the 35-year-old Cullum, Britain's biggest-selling jazz artist of all time, has increasingly emphasized his songwriting. His 2013 album, "Momentum," mostly featured his own pop songs offering a personal take on the transition from youth into adulthood.

But "Interlude" marks a return to straight-ahead jazz. It's Cullum's first album since his self-released 1999 debut "Heard It All Before" without any original compositions.

Cullum says the new album wouldn't exist if he hadn't been asked in 2010 to host the weekly BBC Radio 2 jazz show — Europe's most popular jazz broadcast. He says his interviews with such jazz greats as Dave Brubeck and Wynton Marsalis inspired him to reconnect with jazz.

"Doing this radio show. ... I've been reinvigorated into the world of jazz again," said Cullum, interviewed at a Greenwich Village coffee house.

Cullum formed an instant bond with one guest, producer Benedic Lamdin, a fellow "record nerd" who runs the London-based band Nostalgia 77. They had both discovered jazz as teenagers through hip-hop recordings that sampled jazz.

Cullum asked Lamdin to produce a recording session at Nostalgia 77's London studio. He didn't want to do another Rat Pack-era standards album like Michael Buble and Rob Stewart.

"This was almost like an anti smooth pop-jazz record," Cullum said. "This is a real nod to a certain era of jazz with a connection to the blues, New Orleans and Harlem, and pre-1950s big band arranging."

As producer, Lamdin said he tried to capture the energy of Cullum's live shows. The album was recorded in the old-style way — live in the studio with all the musicians in one room, with no overdubbing.

"I think 'Interlude' shows a singer at a certain point of maturity in an already considerable career," Lamdin said in an email.

The Blue Note album offers an eclectic mix of songs reflecting a record nerd's perspective. The title track is inspired by Sarah Vaughan's vocal version of Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia." There are familiar standards such as "My One and Only Love"; more obscure jazz tunes such as Cannonball Adderley's "Sack o' Woe"; a Ray Charles R&B tune, "Don't You Know;" "Lovesick Blues," popularized by Hank Williams; a Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer composition "Out of This World," and even several contemporary songs such as Sufjan Stevens' "The Seer's Tower."

Cullum sings duets with two up-and-coming singers he featured on his radio show. He recorded the Billie Holiday classic "Good Morning Heartache" with British R&B vocalist Laura Mvula. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," based on Nina Simone's version, finds Cullum and American Gregory Porter playing two guys battling over a girl.

In another departure, Cullum left most of the piano playing to Nostalgia 77's Ross Stanley, so he could focus on his vocals.

"When I did 'Twentysomething,' I could still hear someone trying to shake off the influence of Harry Connick Jr.," Cullum said. "I don't hear that anymore on 'Interlude' ... I'm much more of a singer now, much more in control of my voice."

Cullum recently opened some concerts for Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden — an experience he says inspired him to tap into his songwriter side on his next album.

"I love the idea of doing a songwriter's record and then a jazz record because it keeps you really fresh," he said.