One of the most talked about jazz releases of the year - Jamie Cullum releases his...
Kathryn Shackleton 2003-01-29
Twentysomething is the first fruit of Jamie Cullum's recent signing to Universal and he's filled it with melodic and witty standards, show tunes, Cullum brothers originals, and the occasional off-the-waller.
On Twentysomething, Jamie's vocal sound is warmer, softer, less crisp than on his debut Pointless Nostalgic, because producer Stuart Levine has chosen to record in analogue, not digital format. He's recorded live, too, which leaves some of Jamie's piano solos sounding rough and ready, but gives the performances the power of a live show.
Whether the songs are swingers or heartstring pullers, Jamie has the timing and conviction to get the best out of them. "I Get A Kick Out of You" is fast, spontaneous and vibrant; simulated cocaine-snorts and a dominant, no-nonsense delivery boot it into the modern day. On "Old Devil Moon", strings snake around Jamie's vocals, but introspection quickly gives way to big band swing with the backing of the distinguished horns of Mark Nightingale, Martin Shaw and Alan Barnes.
The Hendrix classic "Wind Cries Mary" becomes an upbeat Van Morrison-like blues in Jamie's hands, but the familiar 3-note riff remains and Sebastiaan de Krom peps up the rock groove with drum rolls to keep up the momentum. Truer to the original is Jeff Buckleys sublime "Lover, You Should Have Come Over", with Jeff's high-pitched vocals replaced by a voice tending towards the gravel of Joe Cocker.
Running through the album as through a stick of rock are Geoff Gascoyne's sophisticated arrangements. He makes "Singin' In the Rain" fresh and exciting, giving it a chilled-out feel with funky Rhodes piano. Geoff's bassline comes straight from the tune, surprising when it appears under the chorus, and the whole works a treat with Jamie's low tones pitched against the airy backings.
Only "I Could Have Danced All Night" lacks some cohesion, with instrumentation mutating from trio to string quartet to electric guitar, with a persistentfunk bassline jarring against the melody. This is still great, though, Jamie thumping on the piano and humming and singing up a storm.
Jamie tweaks a heartstring or two with "Blame It On My Youth". He parallels Chet Baker's version, evoking powerlessness through vocal simplicity, sensitivity, and a paucity of instrumentation. Bob Dorough's "But For Now" is a great ballad, too, springing out of a Billy Joel-like piano accompaniment. A post-hangover rasped vocal and mournful cello give the finishing touches to a poignant and witty classic.
He may have a million pound record deal now, but Jamie hasn't sold out. Resisting the temptation to lavish the cash on major changes, he's continued to invest wisely in great musicians and tasty arrangements. As the saying goes: if you ain't broke and it ain't broke, don't fix it.