Just when you think you’ve seen a kick-ass performance, a performer comes along and blows that idea out of the water, like someone fishing with dynamite. Jamie Cullum was the most recent stick of TNT here at Montreux.
Charismatic and accomplished, Jamie Cullum is along the lines of early Elton John or Harry Connick Jr.. This Brit plays jazz, standards and rock ’n’ roll; he can scat, croon, and flat-out rock. Cullum’s energy appears to be boundless, and his shows—as evidenced by the one I saw last night—typically run about two hours, with no set list. He alternates between being backed by a full band (including horn section) while belting out his own lyrics, or sitting solo at a grand piano, softly giving new meaning to his quieter tunes or his extensive cabaret repertoire. Either way, it’s hard to take your eyes off this kid.
Solo at the grand piano, he dedicated a medley of three songs to the late Claude Nobs, Montreux Jazz Fest’s founder, who had given Cullum a break early in his career. Starting with a deceptively simple version of “What a Difference a Day Makes,” he swung directly into the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” and from there, much to the crowd’s delight, into one of his own songs, “Save Your Soul,” a very different sort of tune, and rocked the house.
“It’s getting hot in here,” he said, and opened the grand piano to play the soundboard and the strings percussively; at the same time, he rapped on the pop tune “Happy,” getting the audience to clap along. Getting the audience involved is a Cullum specialty. He had us snapping our fingers, clapping, or singing “ohh ooh ooh,” at length, at his will. During one of several encores, he told us that we should jump up and down on his count of four, and not before. He took three or four minutes and several choruses to get this message across, working the crowd into a frenzy. “We’re going to make this building shake!” he shouted, and proceeded to make good on his promise. Like I said, dynamite.
– Suzanne Cadgene