“Who’s playing tonight?” asked a passerby, eyes widening as he scanned the line that stretched two city blocks before winding down an alley. Across the way, a mural of Duke Ellington gazed on the scene. That juxtaposition must have been as poignant for the evening’s performer as it was for the concertgoers waiting to enter the Lincoln Theatre: the jazz singer and pianist Jamie Cullum was about to play in the historic space where the Duke himself once performed.
After seeing Jamie Cullum at the 9:30 Club last summer, I wrote a post filled with modifiers such as “effervescent” and “scintillating.” On Friday night, I thought: This venue has been graced by the jazz greats – Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald. Will Cullum command this stage in the same way he took the 9:30 Club by storm?
For anyone less passionate about jazz, that might be a tall order – but the English musician packs a fierce one-two punch of verve and versatility. He’s introduced listeners to jazz not only through his electrifying performances but also through his weekly BBC Radio 2 show, featuring interviews with and live performances by the artists he admires. I used up so many superlatives writing about his 9:30 Club show that I’ll just leave it at this: Whether he’s interpreting a Nat King Cole classic, reconceptualizing Radiohead, or delivering rambunctious, original jazz-pop, Cullum radiates pure joy. It can be hard to engage an audience at a seated venue, but by the end of that night, Cullum had everyone at the Lincoln on their feet, jumping and fast-clapping, singing the harmonies, all smiles and bright eyes.
Jamie Cullum is touring on his latest record, Interlude (Blue Note Records). “To get where you want to go, sometimes you have to go back to where it all started,” Cullum explained. He describes Interlude as “a perfect title for the album ’cause this is genuinely my first proper jazz record.” Where 2013’s Momentum (Island Records) showcased his crossover jazz-pop songwriting, Interlude reaches back to early jazz standards: Cullum’s smoldering, slinky, brassy title track was originally performed by Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli (Night In Tunisia).
An evening with Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood is an evening of jazz infused with bossas and boogaloos, an evening of quicksilver sonic play. The joy of listening to these guys can be eclipsed only by the joy of watching them watch each other. With the slightest nod and smile, they shift to a new idea and lock into it together, seamlessly, as if they were a single consciousness rather than four individual musicians.
Take guitar, stand-up bass, piano, and drums, and put them in front of peerless musicians with wide open musical sensibilities and backgrounds in jazz, blues, folk, soul, and rock. Then take a straight-laced, wonky Washington crowd and remind them to leave the suits and smartphones at home. What you get is an evening of genre-crossing music and an audience nodding along, grinning, and dancing to the funky grooves and improvisational playfulness of Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood.
I don’t need a vision, I’m just waiting on collisions of the brain and the heart / I’m patient for decisions and some stormy revelations I can claim from the start.
— Jamie Cullum, “Edge of Something”
“Dance,” said the Sheep Man. “Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. . . . Yougottauseallyougot. Weknowyou’re tired, tiredandscared. Happenstoeveryone, okay? Justdon’tletyourfeetstop.”
— Haruki Murakami, “Dance Dance Dance”
In mechanical physics, momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. At a concert, momentum is determined by setlist composition, stage presence, and the mental focus needed to do full justice to the songs. When the elements coalesce, a live performance propels the crowd somewhere sublime. The energy transforms a multitude of concert-goers into a single creature with eyes trained on the stage and heartbeat keeping time with drumbeat — hearing, feeling, breathing, being.
Momentum is also the title of Jamie Cullum’s new album. The English piano player and singer-songwriter sounds bolder than ever, shifting from the jazz-dominated sound of earlier albums to more pop-driven, free-wheeling, heterogeneous creations. Cullum characterizes his latest album as reflective of a crossover period. Though he’s a little bit older, I connect with his sense of liminality, of teetering on the threshold separating childish fantasies and adult responsibilities. That sense pervades Momentum, both in its genre-crossing exploration and in its lyrics about making peace with fickle hopes and dreams, collisions of the brain and the heart, and being a star in limbo.
When Cullum bounded onto the stage at the 9:30 Club last night to deafening cheers, his energy was palpable and his joy infectious. With an impish grin and a toss of his artfully-mussed hair, Cullum launched into an evening of effervescent stylings on piano, employing unconventional techniques like palm-muting and striking out a rhythm on the outer rim. In moments of sheer elation, Cullum clambered onto the Yamaha grand and belted out a few lines before leaping off to grab drumsticks and accompany his bandmates in the percussion section. It was a feast for the senses. Continue reading “Jamie Cullum: Collisions of Heart & Mind”