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Jamie Cullum ‘runs things’ with fifth solo album

Patrick Griffin | Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rarely would cultural icons Cole Porter, Rihanna and Clint Eastwood find themselves mentioned in the same thought. With the release of British jazz artist Jamie Cullum’s latest album, however, the previously unrelated contemporaries are taken on an eclectic journey in the pursuit of musical excellence. “The Pursuit,” released in Europe, Asia and Australia last November, is Cullum’s fifth studio album, and his first solo effort since “Catching Tales” was released four years ago.

The 30-year-old Cullum first burst onto the British music scene when he was 19, a musical savant with an innate wittiness and a knack for the nuances and intricacies jazz. Since then, Cullum, often likened to Billy Joel, the piano man himself, has gained notoriety through clever cover tunes, collaborative efforts and an untiring modern attitude toward the classic jazz heritage.

The past four years have been a whirlwind of new opportunities for Cullum, who took an entire year off from the studio to guest in other bands, to produce dance music with his brother and to travel. Since his last studio album, he has contributed to two movie soundtracks.

Cullum contributed to the soundtrack for the 2007 John Cusack film, “Grace is Gone.” His work for the Cusack film earned him enough credibility with film titan Clint Eastwood that Cullum was asked to compose the soundtrack for the 2008 blockbuster “Gran Torino.” The song “Gran Torino,” co-written by Cullum and Eastwood, was nominated for a Golden Globe. The song is featured on the “The Pursuit — Special Edition.”

For his latest creation, Cullum drew inspiration from Nancy Mitford’s novel, “The Pursuit of Love.” Via his official website, Cullum proclaims, “In life, we pursue everything. Life is one long pursuit.” This theme is evident in his most recent songs, which range in subject from nights out with entrancing vixens (Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things”) to a proposed agenda of peace and tranquility given global rule (“If I Ruled the World”).

Andy Morris of Music Week offered infinite praise for the Brit’s latest project: “The Cole Porter cover at the start won’t surprise you, but the house track at the end just might … it’s bold, experimental and the best thing Cullum’s done.”

In between the first and final track, there is plenty of variety. “I’m All Over It” features a driving big band sound with a male-female backing chorus. Cullum proclaims, “She’s a melody that I’ve tried to forget but I can’t,” lamenting a lost love while simultaneously learning to find solace in what still moves him.

At times, Cullum takes a break from his traditional jazz roots to try his hand at other, more experimental styles. Such is the case with “We Run Things,” a funky pop groove that sounds as if it could fall within the repertoire of stars such as Justin Timberlake or Maroon 5. Yet Cullum knows how to stay true to his musical identity, impressing his recognizable style on even the most uncharacteristic songs.

“The Pursuit” would not be a true Jamie Cullum album without a well-executed cover song. The jazz master’s latest recreation, “Don’t Stop the Music,” is a pleasing spin on the dance hit originally performed by Rihanna. Cullum snatches the tune from the crammed floors of dance joints and instead generates the eccentric atmosphere of the hippest jazz club with a stripped-down piano-driven cadence.

Cullum succeeds on this album in sticking to his guns while also showing the edgy creativity that has earned him such praise from music enthusiasts. Though he experienced a sort of rebirth — Cullum ditched his old band for this album in favor of Beck’s band and the horn section from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” as well as hiring longtime friend Greg Wells as producer — “The Pursuit” will please the devoted Cullum fan. For new listeners, the album will provide a comprehensive look into one of the music world’s best-kept secrets.

Though the album has been released abroad, it is not scheduled to be released in the U.S. until March 2. However, “The Pursuit” may be purchased from iTunes and other music service websites.