We have all been in situations where we have brought up the subject of the music we love only to be asked ‘what’s smooth jazz?’ It is a question not always easy to answer and one that forms the motivation for this occasional feature unremarkably called ‘What’s Smooth Jazz?’ Designed to illustrate some of the most definitive examples of the genre, it has, up until this point, always concentrated on specific tracks. However, with the recent release of Brian Culbertson’s ‘Live From The Inside’ there is now an entire album that can be used to demonstrate how perfect smooth jazz is meant to sound.
‘Live From The Inside’ is in fact a CD and DVD combination. The latter provides a fantastic insight into how Culbertson gathered together an incredibly talented group of musicians in the evocative setting of Capitol Studios in Hollywood, CA to recreate some of his biggest hits. Recorded on June 3, 2009 it is without doubt the best film on contemporary jazz ever made and contains seventeen sensational Culbertson tunes. The compact disc features what are arguably the best of twelve of them and they are delivered with the sort of energy that can be routinely found in live smooth jazz performances but which equally is often lacking in the recorded product.
Culbertson’s lightness of touch is breathtaking and this has never been more so than with his smoldering take on the seminal title track from his 2003 recording ‘Come To Me’. In this respect it in the good company of the ultra chilled ‘Our Love’ which he uses to close out the set and Culbertson remains similarly restrained for the wonderful version of ‘All About You’ from the 2001 CD ‘Nice & Slow’. Here Dave Koz on sax is outstanding and when Culbertson comes back to ‘Nice & Slow’ for the delicious ‘Get It On’ Koz is again there to lend a sublime hand. Just another highlight in a collection crammed full of them is ‘Always Remember’ from Culbertson’s 2008 project ‘Bringing Back The Funk’. The arrangement includes a powerhouse four piece horn section, feisty trombone from Culbertson and great work on sax from Marqueal Jordan while when the tempo edges down a notch for the gorgeous ‘Hookin Up’ both Eric Marienthal on sax and Jim Culbertson on trumpet come up big.
Eric Darius on sax is at the top of his game for ‘Back In The Day’ which comes from the 1999 ‘Somethin Bout Love’ and when Culbertson stays with this album for both ‘Do You Really Love Me’ and ‘Back In The Day’ it gives Darius even more opportunities to really cut loose. Eric Marienthal, returns to scoop the honors with his superb playing on the magnificent ‘Lets Get Started’ from the ‘It’s On Tonight’ CD. The track is further lifted by terrific guitar from Ray Parker Jr and when and Marienthal shares sax duties with Marqueal Jordan the result is the seductive ‘On My Mind’. It’s a cut that finds Culbertson at his sensuous best and is taken from as far back as 1997 and the ‘Secrets’ release. ‘Secrets’ is also the source for the hyperactive ‘So Good’ which has Darius on sax, top notch percussion from Lenny Castro and a blockbusting drum solo from Chris Miskel.
It is important to stress that although ‘Live From The Inside’ is ostensibly a ‘best of’ collection Brian Culbertson remains at his imaginative best throughout. His arrangements make every tune sound brand new and he even adds one original composition that predictably is already taking the charts of most played on smooth jazz radio by storm. Titled ‘Go’ it is co-written by Culbertson and ex Earth Wind & Fire mainstay (and now Culbertson band member) Sheldon Reynolds and has that infectious swagger and feel good vibe characteristic of Culbertson’s best music.
Next time someone asks the question ‘What’s Smooth Jazz?’ simply put on ‘Live From The Inside’ and let the music do the talking. This is one sensational album.