There’s a new voice in town: Britain’s 24-year-old Jamie Cullum, a singer and pianist who looks like a young James Cagney, but possesses the unleashed energy of Mick Jagger. In his Stateside debut at the Oak Room, Cullum serves standards from Lerner & Loewe, Cole Porter and George Gershwin, but Jimi Hendrix and Radiohead can also be heard bouncing off the walls of the venerable cabaret.
Cullum, a self-taught pianist, uses the wood surface of the piano lid as a bongo drum for rhythmic excursions, and pounds the keys with an aggressive percussive approach.
His keyboard solos are not particularly interesting, but explosive energy fuels his presentation. While he lacks the subtlety and grace of cabaret’s newest young star, Peter Cincotti, he makes up for it with spirit and drive.
Cullum’s mellow baritone is pleasant when he avoids the upper register. A buoyantly vigorous “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is a feature from his Candid CD “Pointless Nostalgia,” and the arrangement does seem rather pointless. The singer also gets a little too careless with the E.Y. Harburg lyric for Burton Lane’s “Old Devil Moon,” but the accompaniment of Geoff Gascoyne’s tasteful bass lines served him well. (Universal-Verve has signed Cullum to a $1.5 million recording contract.)
A nod to mentor Harry Connick finds Cullum in a mellow mood with “It Had to Be You,” and his punchy take on “I Get a Kick Out of You” includes some familiar vocal references that were trademarks of Ol’ Blue Eyes.
Cullum is at his best with a quiet torch song. Oscar Levant’s most distinctive and lasting ballad, “Blame It on My Youth,” is perhaps the most restrained offering. He also has a knockout turn with his encore, “But for Now,” a haunting ballad by Bob Dorough.
Reminding patrons that much of “My Fair Lady” was penned upstairs at the Algonquin, Cullum’s wrap-up was an impressively swinging “On the Street Where You Live.”
Bass and drums provide a strong assist, but the latter are often a tad bombastic for the small venue, and listeners in one corner of the room were often engulfed in a barrage of pounding paradiddles.