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Brian Culbertson: Bringing Back the Funk

Contrary to what the title implies, smooth jazz pianist Brian Culbertson has never had to bring funk back. Save for his last CD It’s On Tonight, a collection of make-out tunes, Culbertson’s CDs and live shows have always leaned heavy on funky stuff. A more accurate interpretation to be drawn from the title is that Culbertson has brought funk legends back into the arena here, similar to what saxophonist Euge Groove did on 2005’s Just Feels Right.

There’s a palpable Earth, Wind and Fire theme, no surprise since the executive producer is none other than EWF founder and leader Maurice White. And Sheldon Reynolds, former EWF member and now a member of Culbertson’s band, sounds as good as ever when his familiar falsetto carries the chorus of two originals, “Always Remember” and “Let’s Stay in Tonight.” But those are the smooth tunes. It gets nasty on “Funkin’ Like My Fathers” with Bootsy Collins’ singsong rap; on “You Got to Funkifize,” a Tower of Power nugget with vocalist Chance Howard (Prince/The Time) and in-your-face trumpet by former TOP member Greg Adams; and on Kool and the Gang’s “Hollywood Swinging,” with youngster Musiq Souchild on vocals and veteran smooth jazzer Gerald Albright on sax.

Elsewhere, Culbertson puts his trombone through calisthenics on the disco-fied “Excuse Me … What’s Your Name?” and rounds up Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone, Graham Central Station) and saxophonist Ronnie Laws for “The House of Music,” a sweet blues trip that breaks down near its end to a wonderfully chaotic resolution of brass and party chants.

Originally Published