Jamie Cullum, Taller (Island) ****

AS the infamous Twentysomething reaches the big 40 on August 20, Jamie Cullum marks the event by releasing his first new solo album since 2014's Interlude.

Cullum, however, has hardly been quiet over the past five years. His BBC Radio 2 broadcasts are essential listening and he is regularly involved with the best international jazz festivals and extra-curricula activities.

This eighth solo set certainly pushes the boundaries of the traditional style so beloved of Cullum’s early admirers. For although still heavy with delicate inner-seeing ballads in the school of Billy Joel and Elton John (Life Is Grey, Age Of Anxiety, You Can’t Hide Away From Love and Monster), Mankind is a rousing modern gospel excursion and Drink is a contemporary take on a psychedelic theme.

Probably the most revolutionary song, Usher, has taken its inspiration from Parliament, The Fatback Band and Prince at their funkiest best. What would Cullum’s early mentor, Michael Parkinson, have made of this?!

Yet it is hardly surprising that Cullum should explore funk, gospel and pop. The best singles on the Motown, Stax and Philadelphia International labels in the 1960s and 1970s were inevitably backed by crack jazz house bands.

Cullum wrote and recorded all tracks – ten on the standard version, sixteen on the deluxe – with long-time collaborator Troy Miller, also known for his work with Emeli Sande, Mark Ronson and Laura Mvula.

Likewise, lyrically Taller explores rather dark themes of insecurity and injustice as well as unabashed love songs. The title track affectionately refers to friendly jibes that the vertically challenged jazz man receives when compared to his considerably taller spouse, adding that this track is a public love letter to the mother of his children, Supermodel Sophie Dahl. How lovely.

Despite the experimental genre crossing, Taller is a commanding, unified work and makes for an enjoyable adult excursion.

Ian Sime

Jamie Cullum plays York Barbican on March 11 2020. Box office: 0203 356 5441or at yorkbarbican.co.uk