Jamie Cullum, Pizza Express Jazz Club, London

Pizza Express Jazz Club, London

Jamie Cullum is facing some heavy responsibilities. Aged only 22, the singer and pianist from Wiltshire is on track to become the UK's homegrown cross between Harry Connick Jr and Diana Krall.

An engaging and energetic individual, Cullum doesn't seem fazed by all the attention he is getting. He writes sharp and knowing songs that indicate a maturity beyond his boyish appearance, and he attacks some of the oldest chestnuts in the standards repertoire with a gleeful freshness. Despite his age, he can get away with delivering a tough emotional piece such as the aching You Don't Know What Love Is without sounding as if he were singing in an unfamiliar language.

Cullum doesn't have Connick Jr's depth and resourcefulness as a pianist, Krall's cool, or his hero Kurt Elling's icy command of every vocal nuance. What he does have is bravura as a player, a talent for songwriting and an obvious affection for the collective spontaneity of a jazz band - and that is plenty to be going on with.

He launched the Candid record label's showcase week at Soho's Pizza Express with a trio featuring Orlando Le Fleming on bass and Sebastian de Krom on drums. His piano-playing often suggests in its approach the impulsively eccentric functionality of another singer and pianist, Mose Allison. Like Allison, Cullum sparks fizzing solos off against vocal choruses, and plays with a glittery percussive drive. He uses the instrument with an impatient audacity, introducing It Ain't Necessarily So with a mixture of string-scrapings and percussion on the piano lid.

Two of Cullum's originals, Pointless Nostalgic and the acerbic I Want to Be a Popstar, brought his voice out of the low-level shell it had occasionally retreated into. If he didn't entirely get away with You Don't Know What Love Is, he exhibited a subtle dynamic control with it, particularly in its slow fade at the close. And with another torch song, Blame It on My Youth, Cullum confirmed his promise as a musician able to take on songs that have been dauntingly interpreted by some of the best singers in jazz and still make them sound fresh.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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