There’s an implicit warning in the title of Jamie Cullum’s standards album, Interlude.
In case it needs spelling out, the title track — a Dizzy Gillespie tune recorded by Sarah Vaughan, before it became the bebop instrumental Night in Tunisia — opens the album with lyrics about an ardent but fleeting love. “The magic was unsurpassed,” Cullum sings, drawing out his vowels. “Too good to last.” Right: Don’t get too attached.
Cullum, 35, has spent the past decade or so as the rare singer-songwriter to find big success at the crossroads of jazz and pop, equipped with his raffish charm, his limber voice and his uncorked energies onstage.
Interlude has been marketed as his return to jazz, which is true insofar as its repertory skews heavily toward the American songbook, with spruce acoustic arrangements.
You could know just that much about the album and dismiss it out of hand, but Cullum has dodged most of the usual pitfalls, proceeding with respect (but not too much) and a spirit of license (within clear bounds). Crooning Rat Packish ballads like Make Someone Happy and Come Rain or Come Shine, he can still suggest a junior Harry Connick Jr., accentuating emotional connection over vocal technique.
What makes Interlude a far more interesting proposition are its less obvious choices, starting with the personnel. Rather than recording the album with his usual sidemen, Cullum enlisted Benedict Lamdin, a producer also known as Nostalgia 77, to put together a band. Many of the tracks were recorded in a single room; some, like a euphoric strut through Ray Charles’s Don’t You Know, were done in a single take.
It’s probably no accident that Cullum, a British musician weaned on rock and hip-hop, envisions an American songbook that includes Don’t You Know. Along similar lines, he’s duly sensitive on Randy Newman’s Losing You and smartly outfits a Sufjan Stevens song, The Seer’s Tower, with an arrangement inspired by Nina Simone.
Also coming from the Simone playbook is Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood — performed as a duet with Gregory Porter, who sounds so much more hale and soulful that the track’s inclusion almost counts as self-sabotage.
Cullum fares better with Laura Mvula on Good Morning Heartache: The two singers move with careful grace, like new partners circling a dance floor, neither making any promises about sticking around.