Jamie Cullum is in a league all his own. Unlike many modern jazz and pop standards singers, this brash piano playing Brit co-writes the bulk of material that goes on albums and handles multiple instruments. Whenever Cullum skillfully reinterprets a song (Radiohead, Doves, Jeff Buckley, Jimi Hendrix have been tackled in the past), you nearly forget about the original.
After a four year hiatus that included collaborations with The Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams, film work (the animated Meet the Robinsons, Golden Globe-nominated songs from Grace is Gone and Gran Torino) and marriage, he’s back with snazzy third effort The Pursuit.
Produced by Greg Wells (Mika, Katy Perry) and Martin Terefe (James Morrison), it finds Cullum in better voice than ever and re-emphasizing his pop smarts. A new lyrical tag is added to Cole Porter’s finger snapping, casual fling tune “Just One of Those Things” with the Count Basie Orchestra (dig Cullum’s Thelonious Monk-style flourishes). Giddy “I’m All Over It Now” (co-penned by Ricky Ross of late ‘80s Scottish sensation Deacon Blue) should put a smile on listeners’ faces.
The syncopated, circular piano figure and programming on “Wheels” will appeal to Keane fans. Handclaps, scatting and wild ivory tickling elevate the infectious vibe of “You and Me Are Gone.” Cullum’s sensual take on Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” and the Fender Rhodes/drum ‘n’ bass infused “We Run Things” are real eye openers.
Other standouts include engaging seven-minute long dance/jazz hybrid “Music is Through” and shrewd, sweeping “Mixtape,” where Cullum’s nimble piano fingerings are bolstered by celebrated string arranger Paul Buckmaster and the horn section from Michael Jackson’s Thriller.