‘Twentysomething’ pianist bucks jazz, pop traditions

The obvious definition of “Twentysomething” is “a young adult in his twenties,” but the term encompasses so much more than that: a period in one’s life marked by indecision, frivolity, harmless egotism, a still incomplete world perspective, the desire to cling to youth and lack of responsibility and some serious soul-searching.

All these aspects are included, in one way or another, on Brit Jamie Cullum’s accordingly titled CD. In it, he follows in the footsteps of artists such as Harry Connick, Jr. as he brings jazz into the mainstream.

A most unique combination of pop standards and originals, Cullum puts his own spin on every tune. There exists a delightful dichotomy in his singing on some of the subjects, that as a “twentysomething” he professes to not know too much about. In doing so, he demonstrates his ability to not take himself too seriously, which creates a supremely entertaining musical experience.

The title track is an exquisite example of his razor sharp wit; the lyrics of the opening verse alone are a perfect expression of the frustration of college students. Listeners will probably nod along in agreement as Cullum sings, “After years of expensive education, a car full of books and anticipation, I’m an expert on Shakespeare and that’s a hell of a lot but the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought.”

Cover songs make up the majority of the disc, but it’s possible that you may not even realize it. Somehow, Cullum’s raspy vocals and piano accompaniment sound as though they belong in each song to which he lends these talents. He is also able to perform a vast range of genres. For example, “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” written by songwriting legend Cole Porter, suits Cullum’s style with its surprisingly modern lyrics (Who knew Porter would make a reference to cocaine?). Cullum can also scat and beatboxes through “I Could Have Danced All Night,” the inventive interpretation that may not appeal to true jazz fans.

“Next Year, Baby,” one of Cullum’s own songs, transitions from just jazz to salsa, with the insertion of a Latin beat, drums and horns, and back again seamlessly.

For the second time, Cullum covers Radiohead on “High and Dry” (first heard on his debut disc “Pointless Nostalgic”). The disc closes with a live cut of the Neptunes’ song “Frontin.” Listening to the song, one can almost see the sly grin on his face as he sings, “I know that I’m carrying on, never mind if I’m showing off, I was just frontin’/you know I want ya babe.”

Cullum is equally impressive when he slows down the pace. “All at Sea,” which he penned himself, addresses feelings of loneliness and desire for intimacy and social interaction and is the most honest and touching song of “Twentysomething.” His rich piano playing is especially complementary. Then, Cullum croons endearingly on the lovelorn laments in “Lover, You Should Have Come Over,” “But For Now” and “Blame It On My Youth,” the latter being one of the prime examples of his declarations of his na?vet?.

“Twentysomething” is truly a gem of an album; it is an exceedingly challenging task to find a bad song in it. Cullum’s experimental style may scare some traditionalists, but overall, we (in some cases, almost) twenty-somethings will find a voice in his music that they’ll want to listen to over and over again.