Pop meets jazz at Hard Rock Live

posted by jimabbott on July, 7 2010 1:34 AM – Orlando Sentinel

There are only four musicians in Jamie Cullum’s touring band, but that doesn’t include all the additional personalities that the guy keeps in his head.

Hoagy Carmichael. Cole Porter. Jimi Hendrix. Ray Charles. Rihanna. Louis Armstrong.

Those far-flung influences were all at play in Cullum’s lively two-hour set on Tuesday at Hard Rock Live. On paper, it sounds like a mess. Yet, with only a few exceptions, the British singer-songwriter managed to match his over-sized ambitions.

A lot of that has to do with the power of his personality.

Cullum is a diminutive character equipped with a likable swagger. Although he started the night with a suit and tie, by the end of the first three songs he was down to a t-shirt that made him look more like a punk rocker. If Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong ever made the move to jazz, it might look something like this.

And, like any good rock star, he knows how to milk the spotlight. It took about 16 bars of the introduction to Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” for Cullum to roll up the sleeves of his dress shirt. Fortunately, when he did get around to playing again, it was worth the wait.

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Compared with the pedestrian pop of the opening “I’m All Over It,” the free-wheeling 10-minute romp through Porter’s standard was a revelation. This band, a versatile unit that offered inventive solos on trumpet, tenor sax and upright bass, could make a living playing jazz.

Alas, pop-flavored songs such as Cullum’s “Wheels” were no match for his beautiful interpretation of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” or the frisky encore duet with bassist Chris Hill on “I Get a Kick Out of You.”

And Cullum’s hybrid creations didn’t always reach the heights of two of the show’s most inspired moments: The hypnotic drum-and-bass groove of Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” and a funky twist on “The Wind Cries Mary” that took the Hendrix song into Otis Redding territory.

But the successes are impressive enough to hope that Cullum will keep searching for more.

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