The BBC’s jazz resident is back with his seventh album just in time for Christmas, a time best known for cookery programs filled with Cullum’s music.
In fact, the genre best associated with the musician is ‘jazz-light’, most likely heard on Radio 2 than in New Orleans bars. Yet, what is surprising about his latest venture, Interlude, is that, at times, you could be said to be listening to a ‘proper’ jazz record. ‘Sack O’ Woe’ stands out as a highlight: a raunchy, quirky number that is much more experimental than we usually associate with Cullum’s repertoire. On top of this, ‘The Seer’s Tower’ feels eerie and is another brilliant number that showcases a more emotional side to him.
The album drafts in the featuring artists Gregory Porter and Laura Mvula to duet on its lead singles, the Nina Simone cover ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ and Billie Holiday’s ‘Good Morning Heartache’ respectively. The vocals on both songs are exceptional, with the smouldering battle for the affection of a loved one between Porter and Cullum being particularly enjoyable.
However, it is a shame that your average listener on Radio 2 will hear these tracks that, vocals aside, are not particularly musically adventurous, or that interesting. The album feels incredibly exciting and seductive when the music is quirky and experimental.
Without a doubt, Jamie Cullum belongs to a full swinging jazz band, perhaps best highlighted by the scratchy vocals and interesting arrangements seen in track ‘Lovesick Blues’, a tune that makes the music produced rather exciting to listen to.
The problem with Interlude is that it can feel tame and dull in places. The ballad ‘My One And Only Love’ is a standard hotel lobby piano accompaniment that comes across as an album filler, and it is not the only number guilty of this.
The frustrating thing is that Jamie Cullum demonstrates that he can be an innovative jazz musician, but chooses instead to write records that will attract the bland taste of the average Radio 2 listener.