Jamie Cullum with Imelda May
8 p.m. Fri., March 12. $30.50, $35.50. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 770-916-2800, www.cobbenergycentre.com.
By Lynne Margolis
In concert, Jamie Cullum seems irrepressibly impish — and not just because he’s short and cute. No, it’s because he’s a whirl of energy, banging away at his piano (or any other surface), jumping on his instrument, cracking jokes, dancing. … The guy oozes so much personality, you can’t help but fall in love with him.
But of course, none of that would matter if he didn’t have chops; he’s a piano dynamo who also has a great voice and a winning way of mixing jazz and pop. His appreciation for the classics and ability to write witty originals simply clinches the deal.
The London resident has recently released an album (“The Pursuit”) and built his own studio, named Terrified Studios — so called because, he says, he’s so technophobic, he’s terrified when he’s there.
It’s probably an exaggeration, however, as songs on the album, a couple of which qualify as techno music, prove. He’s also an admitted music geek who spent part of a year off working as a DJ and collaborating with other musicians, including his brother Ben, the guy responsible for turning him on to jazz.
Jamie Cullum likes having opportunities to experiment, he said, “because eventually, those slightly more esoteric things … lead to a song like ‘We Run Things,’ which touches on that side of what I do … and allows me to touch this album with that kind of sound without it taking over the entire thing of what people recognize as being me.”
“That gives more facets to the album,” he said.
The “facets” range from Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Not While I’m Around” (from “Sweeney Todd”) to “If I Ruled the World” and Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music,” as well as his own love ballad “Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down.” The album title, in fact, comes from the book “The Pursuit of Love” by Nancy Mitford. Cullum observes that we spend our lives in pursuit of love or other goals.
For this album, one of his goals was getting out of his comfort zone and injecting a little terror, actually.
He even went to L.A. to record with players he’d never worked with before, instead of relying on his familiar sidemen. His collaborators included members of Beck’s band and the horn section Michael Jackson used on “Thriller.”
He would, of course, love to collaborate with Beck himself someday. Like Beck, Cullum is a player who effortlessly crosses between genres and doesn’t pay attention to boundaries — except to break through them.
“We Run Things” is a case in point. It’s almost a mashup of jazz, pop, electronica, Brazilia and other influences, and it works. And right after it comes the Sondheim ballad. That’s the kind of jumping around Cullum does musically — not to mention physically.
“I try to channel the energy and make it part of the performance,” he said, adding, “You know, it’s never a construction; it’s never something that happens because I plan it that way. It’s always the moment that takes over.”
And the exploding piano on the album cover? That’s real, too.
“We did a proper explosion,” he said, and yes, he was “right there.” But, like all of his pursuits, the result was worth it.