Jamie Cullum: Five Essential Jazz Albums

The crossover star selects five jazz must-haves...

Clash and jazz, jazz and Clash. It’s rare that we and it meet.

Yet with renowned jazz boffin and Radio 2 presenter Jamie Cullum about to release his sixth studio album, ‘Momentum’, we asked the award-winning crossover success story to guide Clash readers through five essential jazz records.

Because if you’re going to do jazz, you might as well do it properly. And starting with any of these LPs makes for a fine foundation indeed.

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‘Everything You Didn’t Do’, from ‘Momentum’

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Mulatu Astatke and The Heliocentrics – ‘Inspiration Information’ (2009)

“This is a collaboration between the legendary master and creator of Ethiopian jazz and the extraordinary London group The Heliocentrics. The Heliocentrics put their incredible grooves and swampy, psychedelic production alongside Mulatu’s exotic sound to create one of the most successful and genre-defying musical collaborations in recent memory. This album lives and breathes in your mind like the memory of a great journey you took in a hot, alien country. Music your feet and brain can dance to.”

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Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach – ‘Money Jungle’ (1962)

“This is a fiery piano trio and a meeting of generations. Charles and Max are the young lions on bass and drums respectively, who come together with an older, paid-up member of the establishment Duke Ellington, who’s lived and worked through the traditional and swing eras to find himself in the new world of modern jazz. He gives them a run for their money. This album is avant-garde piano trio music that bounces out of your speakers like a kamikaze game of Pong.” 

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David Axelrod – ‘Song Of Innocence’ (1968)

“This is truly an album that crosses many boundaries. Helmed by the Electric Prunes producer David Axelrod, it is a heady stew of jazz, beats, rock and psychedelia, all underscored by David’s beautiful orchestral arrangements: at one moment luscious and sweeping, the next full of counterpoint and jarring notes. It is an album that has inspired many, but remains something that has stood the test of time well. Nothing that has come since has managed to match its curious mixture of influences, including preceding albums from Axelrod himself.” 

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Miles Davis – ‘In A Silent Way’ (1969)

“This was the first ‘jazz’ album I fell in love with before I really understood what jazz was. That’s the key here, I think. It’s an album based around vamps, repetition and small changes, almost ambient. Think Can, meets Eno, meets Miles Davis. It was a revolution in the world of Davis, certainly in the jazz world, and precipitated the more explosive jazz/rock fusion of ‘Bitches Brew’. I personally find this to be a superior record – it sounds more influential and less of its time as it gets older. You can file it alongside Flying Lotus with no worries of mis-categorisation.”

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Ahmad Jamal – ‘The Awakening’ (1970)

“Simply a great piano trio record from the master of space, Ahmad Jamal. Ahmad does not play the piano like anyone else. He leaves room where others would play notes. He plays every inch of the keyboard. His solos are structured in unique ways that snake around the original melody in playful and soulful ways. He is a piano player’s piano player who is never flashy for the sake of it. On this record he makes some of his most memorable improvised statements. Jamal worked beside one the great, and most sampled, drummers of all time, Idris Muhammed. Albeit not on this album, which also has a cool cover. What more could you want?”

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‘Momentum’ is released on May 20th. Find Jamie Cullum online here 

Main photo: Mary McCartney

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