I don’t like jazz. There. I said it. I don’t like jazz. I wish I did! I want to be the kind of worldly, cosmopolitan woman that loves nothing more than a glass of whiskey in a smokey jazz bar. But I don’t. I also don’t like whiskey or smoking so I am way off. I tell people I like all kinds of music, leaving out the “except jazz” part because as a reviewer, I’m not sure I’m allowed to discount an entire genre the way I can a drink. Especially one as important as jazz. And while I’ll say it again, I don’t like jazz, I can definitely respect it and appreciate the incredible artistry of expert jazz musicians. And Jamie Cullum is certainly an expert jazz musician.
A year since his last offering Momentum, Cullum delivers his latest LP, Interlude. A compilation of jazz covers with enough of a Cullum twist to stamp his mark on them and freshen them up. Ben Landin’s production is subtle, with the importance of making jazz the classic way prominent on this record. There is an organic feeling of “jamming with the band” throughout, with gritty imperfections left alone and unpolished to add to the magic of a real live take. With Interlude, Cullum offers us a celebration of jazz, referencing an era of the thirties and forties, an area scarcely explored today. He gives credit to many a jazz superstar, none more so than Nina Simone.
His version of Simone’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, made famous again in 1965 by The Animals, is the shining star on this album. Arranged as a duet by Landin’s Nostalgia 77 and featuring the stellar voice of Gregory Porter, it has the brash feel of Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good. Porter, who was discovered by Cullum on his Number 1 Radio show on BBC, brings a depth and soul to the record that is slightly lacking on other tracks. His voice is husky and almost annoyed, contributing a manly attitude to contradict Cullum’s boyish charm and it works perfectly to convey the battle for “her” affections.
Laura Mvula is another featured duet, joining Cullum for his rendition of Billy Holiday’s Good Morning Heartache. Laura Mvula is truly an old soul, born to sing this kind of music. Listening to her beautiful sound in contrast to Cullum’s more current and clear vocal is like watching figures slow dance in a black and white movie, poignant and moving.
In what is maybe my favourite part of this record, Cullum breathes new life into gorgeous songs of old, offering them to a modern day audience and exposing a new generation to some classics that should never be lost. Ray Charles gets a nod with Cullum’s interpretation of Don’t You Know, as does Cannonball Adderley on Sack o’Woe and Randy Newman on Losing You. In what might be the most ballsy creative experiment on the record, Bob Dylan is thrown into the mix with an interesting mashup between the music of The Ballad Of Hollis Brown and the vocals from Sufjan Stevens’ The Seers Tower. An experiment I am surprised to say, works.
Interlude is a great jazz album. I love Cullum’s vocals. I love Nostalgia 77’s arrangements. I love the featured guest artists. I love the incredible talent of the musicians on the record. I love the idea of bringing music from that era to a fresh audience. I love beautiful songs being paid tribute. I love the idea of recording a raw session and laying down imperfect takes just because they feel good. I love Cullum’s vision. I love his energy. I just don’t like jazz. This might be the single malt of jazz records, but I’m still ordering a beer.