album review: Jamie Cullum “The Pursuit”

This week the British pop crooner, jazz pianist, and genre interpreter Jamie Cullum made the U.S. release of his newest album, “The Pursuit.”  The title comes, he admits in a CNN interview, from a lifelong chase in both making and living music.  Again, his collaborations and arrangements are ambitious, working with the Count Basie Orchestra and Clint Eastwood, plus including covers of Cole Porter and Rihanna.  You have to previously decide never to be surprised by Jamie, or learn to listen while looking over your shoulder.

Jamie is a piano player’s favorite with solos that refuse the margins of pop songs, both an attribute to his playing abilities and his arrangement of everything else.  The album opens with “Just One of Those Things” as Jamie jabs between the horn stabs of the Count Basie Orchestra, following the momentary parlance of Cole Porter.  By “I’m all Over It,” he’s driving a modish tune that sounds something like the pop pocket of Nashville. His rainy day ballads are in there as well, with his scarred and torn voice overheard from the other room.

Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” through Jamie’s eyes has a snare drum with brushes, and a triplet groove felt over an upright bass.  ”You and Me are Gone” is a latinesque percussion/ “Twenty Something” left hand bassline, and the album’s most brazen piano showcase.  Melodramatic storytelling makes up “Mixtape,” a song about the conveying of oneself in handmade analog authenticity.  ”I Love This,” crackles on a gritty, distorted rhodes electric piano, with a groove so hard I wanted to pop someone with a rubber band.  Then with “Music is Through,” it was disco in Brooklyn.

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Like in previous albums, Jamie co writes and collaborates with his brother Ben.  Songs take the theme of describing a life in course of creating art; the driving force that never arrives at a finished stopping point.  The album has a destination, however; its final song “Gran Torino”  from the 2008 Clint Eastwood movie soundtrack where Jamie reminiscently states, “The world is nothing more than all the tiny things you’ve left behind.”

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