Jazz-pop is a curious genre label. Jazz – with its blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, and syncopation – is often considered to be something of a musical refuge for the more cerebral; whereas good old fashioned pop masquerades as a sanctuary for the everyman. Straddling the divide between the two is not something that you’d consider to be a walk-in-the-park, and yet it’s something that thirty-three year old singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jamie Cullum has always made look particularly easy.
Momentum is Cullum’s first album since 2009’s The Pursuit– and his first for Island Records- and marks the culmination of a journey that sees him worlds apart from the boy who produced his 1999 debut album Heard It All Before on a meagre forty-eight pound budget. Whereas previous albums have seen him make significant forays into other styles of music (The Pursuit’s brief incursions into house and electro), Momentum is very much a pop record, and a good one at that.
Whilst Cullum anchors himself within the sphere of pop, it’s an abode from which he occasionally steps out to dabble with his preoccupations of jazz and R’n’B, though never so much that these songs steer away from being radio friendly. At the forefront is his unique voice, which still possesses that distinct full-bodied yet nasal quality, and ability to switch from soft to resounding in an instant. Everything You Didn’t Do and Edge of Something are radio friendly jazz-pop standard-bearers, When I Get Famous is a brass-infused swing monster, and Anyway drifts into soul and R’n’B territory.
The album has a more personable feel than his previous outings: the lyrics are more contemplative, heavily informed by Cullum’s recent marriage (to Sophie Dahl), the birth of his children (two young girls) and his ascent – or descent if you prefer – to adulthood.
His penchant for collaborations makes its way onto Momentum (he’s collaborated with a range of artists from Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams, and Sander Kleinenberg in the past) with the cover of Cole Porter’s Love For Sale. This track features Roots Manuva, and pilfers the scuttling bass line from Witness the Fitness to give the track a steady footing, though it’s subjected to a darkly atmospheric makeover from Cullum and his producer, Dan the Automator (known for his work with Kasabian). It’s the very antithesis of old-school jazz. Elswhere is his cheeky reworking of Pure Imagination, the song from the 1971 musical Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Momentum is a solid pop album with enough interesting forays and turns to prove that Jamie Cullum is a lot more than just the British Michael Bublé. He has talent in abundance and it’s evident on these tracks: though it lacks any out-and-out stellar songs it’s cheery, consistent and refreshingly ambitious at times, pondering the past (musically and lyrically) whilst balancing it with the present.
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