Cullum Brings Jazz, Pop and Carnaval to Anaheim

Musical hybrids are everywhere, some more convincing than others. Linkin Park excels with a mix of alternative rock and rap while Aretha Franklin’s attempt in 1998 to combine her mastery of soul with urban rap and R&B in ‘A Rose is Still a Rose’ was horrendous, the musical equivalent of Lucille Ball’s short-lived ‘Life With Lucy’ in 1986.
When it comes to mixing pop and jazz, few artists meet the standard set by British singer and pianist Jamie Cullum, who performed at The Grove in Anaheim Wednesday Oct. 25. His background playing jazz clubs, his deep, slightly raspy, voice and a contagious enthusiasm which included him using the piano as a drum set and, occasionally, as a platform from which to jump, made the set riveting.
Idahoan and singer/guitarist Josh Ritter opened for Cullum with warm, country-tinged rock that would probably feel most at home sung around a campfire. Often performing with his eyes closed, Ritter was at his best when his soulful, solid voice was complemented only by his guitar.
A folksy storytelling element carried Ritter and his band through many songs, performing tracks from his newest album ‘The Animal Years,’ including ‘Girl in the War,’ a lyrically and musically striking song that hushed even the noisiest audience members.
Cullum, though, held an even grander appeal, one that transgressed regional and musical boundaries. During the very infrequent but dull spots created by overextending a song, Cullum maintained interest simply with his arresting voice.
Between songs from his newest album, ‘Catching Tales,’ ‘Twentysomething’ and other older albums, Cullum used the piano as a drum and sang a few of his favorite contemporary songs.
His rendition of Justin Timberlake’s ‘SexyBack’ was infinitely sexier than Timberlake’s version. The improvisation on the Pussycat Dolls’ ‘Don’t Cha’ was fun as well, despite the utterly uninterested facial expression of one of the band members. Cullum altered the song, to the delight of the audience, by asking, ‘Don’t you wish your boyfriend was short like me?’
Hearing Pharrell’s ‘Frontin” with Cullum’s vocals, piano and muted trumpet caught some off-guard, yet the jazzed-up song sounded amazing. The trumpet resounded in the echoey space of The Grove, giving the song a new lease on life. Improvising with the piano, the trumpet in ‘Frontin” was reminiscent of ‘The Detroit Experiment.’
While Cullum’s catchy covers were memorable, he was truly in his element (surprise) with his own songs. Perhaps the most well-known song from ‘Catching Tales,’ ‘Get Your Way,’ gets attention with horn breaks and light piano accompaniment, yet still feels ready for radio play on stations like STAR 98.7 or KIIS FM 102.7.
On stage, ‘Mind Trick’ spiraled into a grand, bouncy dance number only hinted at by the album version. ‘London Skies’ paid tribute to the famous city’s sporadic weather and was interrupted by a crazy five-minute Brazilian Carnaval-style instrumental break