October 18, 2013. Seven nights earlier Boney James had opened up the Smooth Jazz Cruise West Coast Edition with a performance that at the time seemed impossible to beat. In fact this remained the case for much of the week until a certain Brian Culbertson hit the stage with his special brand of showmanship, sublime talent, a backing band to die for and songs pulled from the length and breadth of his ever growing discography. In fact supported by Eddie Miller on vocals and additional keyboards, Adam Holly on guitar, bass-player Maurice Ellis, drummer Chris Miskel, Marqueal Jordan with both sax and vocals plus the breathtaking Selina Albright, Culbertson took the appreciative audience on a tour of his recording career right back to the time in 1994 when he cut his debut album ‘Long Night Out’ in his Chicago apartment.
Of course 2014 will see the reimagining of this record with an A-List set of musicians involved and he gave the crowd a taster with the wonderful ‘City Lights’ yet truth to tell, right from the opening bars of the ultra catchy ‘Back In The Day’ and the dazzling ‘Always Remember’, it was clear that Culbertson was up, running and in blistering form.
With both Marqueal Jordan and Selina Albright in the lineup this gave Brian some vocal options and he exploited them to the full, first with a tremendous version of ‘Nice & Slow’ from the 2001 CD of the same name and again with title cut from the 1999 blockbuster ‘Somethin Bout Love’. Other vocal delights came from Eddie Miller and his contribution to the Quincy Jones classic ‘Secret Garden’ (that can also be found on ‘Somethin Bout Love’) but the greatest vocal performance of the night came from Albright with her delivery of ‘Still Here’ from Culbertson’s current CD ‘Dreams’.
It was a hard act to follow but follow it the band did with some high octane funk that included a stage appearance by Chance Howard for ‘You Gotta Funkifize’ and a larger than life rendition of ‘Funkin Like My Father’. ‘Serpentine Fire’ kept the part going but, as Culbertson eased down the tempo, a highlight of the whole show was ‘The Way You Feel’ from ‘Its On Tonight’ where sax from Boney James really was the icing on the cake.
Equally pleasing was the title song from ‘Dreams’ and ‘That’s Life’ from ‘XII’ but as he closed out the set (as he often does) with ‘Our Love’ the overriding impression was that, with Brian Culbertson, the future of contemporary jazz is indeed in very good hands.