Jamie Cullum Pointless Nostalgic Review

BBC Review

Young Britjazz singer pushes all the right buttons in this vibrant debut.

Kathryn Shackleton 2003

With female jazz singers in the ascendant, it's encouraging to see the men refusing to be eclipsed. Rising star Jamie Cullum's vocal sound starts at Sinatra, puts its foot down at Harry Connick Jr., and veers past Kurt Elling. Also the keyboard player in rock band Taxi, Jamie's used to playing the piano with whichever limb is free - and he takes this refreshing irreverence into his jazz debut.

The material is mostly very familiar (Gershwin is well-represented) but Jamie isn't aiming for sepia-coloured portraits of the music. The pieces he's chosen, like video shorts, tell a story in each track - with Jamie cast as the modern-day hero and his band creating an urban backdrop. So, while Diana Krall's "Devil May Care" is a fireside version, Jamie's is the roadside one, given pace and edge by a fine set of horns arranged by Geoff Gascoyne.

Sparks fly as drummer Sebastiaan de Krom works up the excitement in a piano trio version of "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You"; even in this format Jamieprojects as though he's with a big band, while Gascoyne's bass assumes a near-vocal quality.

Not old enough to have lived the jazz life yet,Jamie's rough-edged sound is embryonic, but the combination of spiky and haphazard piano with his insinuating vocals is a winner. Assaults on the piano, melodramatic pauses and exasperated sighs bring Monk's "Well You Needn't" to life, too, with humour and gritty excitement. Ben Castle goes all gruff and boppish on tenor here, in contrast to his sweet handling of the weepy "In the Wee Small Hours", where he builds a simple and beautiful solo from nowhere.

Strangely, the contemporary songs come across more nostalgically than the old-timers. The title track and Radiohead's "High and Dry" have you staring into space and reminiscing, both featuring stripped-down trio and an intense, passionate vocal.

The album ends on an ironic note with "I Want to Be a Popstar" - its premise being that jazz is an elevated music played by real musicians, and pop (especially the manufactured kind) is faking it. With Jamie already a semi-pop star with Gareth Gates-through-a-hedge looks, and tenorman Ben Castle leader of the big band on Pop Idol, the irony and energy in this track more than make up for its uninspiring melody.

Pointless Nostalgic trades sepia for cibachrome, finding vibrant expression in the old songs and nostalgia in the new. Jamie's irreverent approach to jazz and his association with some of the finest British jazz musicians should find him favour with jazz and rock fans alike.

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