Thursday, 12 February 2009

Brian Culbertson - Bringing Back The Funk

Born in Decatur Illinois in 1973 now based in Los Angeles California, keyboardist, trombone player, drummer, bassist and producer Brian Culbertson has always been the youthful and jovial fresh face of the smooth Jazz scene. Over the past number of years Brian has earned his stripes as a pioneer in the field of goodtime funky cool jazz. His total live performance experience, regular cavorting and jumping around the stage at his concerts with trombone in hand, grins, funny faces and poses with incredible playing from behind the Roland keyboard from where he stands show him as the true all round visual and musical artist as well as an entertainer. Whenever I have attended any of the shows, I have always been immediately impressed with not only the musical talent Brian manages to surround himself but also the sheer joy everyone appears to be having on stage while playing the music. The shows are highly entertaining, always packed and are totally suitable for anyone of any age or musical persuasion. Brian is definitely a jazz musician that does not take himself too seriously but seeks to make his music as accessible to the general pubic as possible. He has worked alongside some highly respected names in smooth Jazz including Dave Koz, Jeff Lorber, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Marcus Miller, Patti Austin, and Bob James to mention only a very few.‘Bringing Back The Funk’ is a step in a slightly new direction for Brian in musical content, performance and presentation. The album is a collection of some classic and lesser-known funk anthems from across the last couple of decades along with some inspired original material. Like it says in the title, the music is very much in keeping with the established school of funk with such veterans as Bootsy Collins of Parliament, one of the undisputed originators of funk from the 70s, Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White taking his place as co-producer, Larry Dunn and Sheldon Reynolds along with many others. The intention of this work was to step away from the highly programmed and produced offerings of the current day and take the music back to its organic funk roots. The album took only 5 days to record and under 3 months to fully complete and mix the production. Most unusual for the expected time required to find drum loops samples and beats so prevalent in today’s output from the industry! Brian informed me in my interview with him on my show on Solar Radio that the connection with Maurice White came from Sheldon Reynolds, ex-Earth, Wind & Fire and now the lead guitarist/singer of Brian's band, the Funk Experience. Sheldon gave him the contact to co-produce. Maurice was so inspired by the proposed project that he offered to become the executive producer for the whole album lending his authentic credibility to the work. With Messrs White and Dunn on board it was very easy to make the connections with all the ‘A-list’ funk and Jazz gurus and legends. Brian said to me “All I had to do was call people on my wish list and say I’m making a funk record with Maurice White to which they replied, ‘OK, where and when?’” You can really hear Earth, Wind and Fire, Tower of Power, Parliament and classic 70s/80s raw funk band influences throughout the album. All tracks include stars both new and old featuring such names as Gerald Albright on a cool funky slightly slower reworking of Kool and the Gang’s ‘Hollywood Swinging’ with amazing pastiche of a Maceo Parker alto sax solo, bass playing from Culbertson himself and quality lead vocals from Musiq Soulchild. Bootsy Collins is placed up front singing and rapping on the first track ‘Funkin’ Like My Father’, an inspired original written by Collins, Reynolds and Brian. Other singing talents include the incredible Ledisi on a charming interpretation of a lesser-known Bill Withers track ‘The World Keeps Going Around’ originally from ‘Live at Carnegie Hall’ album with an interesting and ingenious twist in the arrangement. Included in this version is a full and well-written brass arrangement. In fact every track on the album has a full horn section. The personnel in the horn section on the album boast such names as Gerald Albright, Tom Scott, Eric Marienthal, Lee Thornberg, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker and of course Brian himself in the line up playing trombone. Arrangements by Greg Adams of Tower of Power make for some authentic powerful sounds from the brass.Larry Graham is featured on bass on ‘The House of Music’ recorded in Minneapolis. The song was conceived by Brian and Larry singing parts on the phone to each other and finally Brian flying over to record the song with a band. The track is a mid tempo bluesy original featuring the legendary Ronnie Laws on tenor saxophone. There are also the usual groovy smooth jazz styled tracks for which Brian is known and loved. Examples include ‘Always Remember’ with piano lead and a rather natty Tower of Power crafted break down in the middle, Jam track ‘Excuse Me…What’s Your Name? with Brian taking the lead melody on trombone with a synth doubling, and the final track ‘Let’s Stay In Tonight’ with some interesting harmonic content and infectious vocal hook from the Take 6/Earth, Wind & Fire referenced chorus.‘You Got To Funkifize’ is a faithful cover of the original Tower of Power with some wonderful baritone sax from Tom Scott and rip roaring lead vocals from Chance Howard all topped off with a tasty ‘bone’ solo from Culbertson. The track breaks out into a gospel styled shout at the end. I was up and clapping, I was sure I was in church! Some other names of great musicians and singers included in the line up are such names as the great Paul Jackson Jr, Lenny Castro, Ricky Peterson, Ray Parker Jr., Tony Maiden, Bobby Watson, Ice Candi, The Peri Sisters, Sam Sims, and Oscar Seaton. In my opinion Brian Culbertson’s ‘Bringing back the funk’ is a refreshing, well balanced authentic and innovative work which sets out to unashamedly do what it says on the packet! Well worth a listen.

Mike Parlett

Buy on Amazon