Brian Culbertson - XII

Brian Culbertson
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It must be liberating to be classified as a smooth or contemporary jazz artist these days. One the one hand, you have some artists making straight up early to mid 1970s style jazz/funk/rock fusion records. On the other hand, artists like Brian Culbertson move with audacity toward funk and R&B and even Go-Go music. That's the move that Culbertson makes on his 12th studio album - appropriately titled XII.

The 12 tracks on this album have an even split between instrumental contemporary jazz and R&B and funk tunes complete with vocals by some big name vocalists from the past and present. Culbertson recruited Go-Go king Chuck Brown to lend vocals to the bouncy jam "Feelin' It." Other guest vocalists include Kenny Lattimore, Brian McKnight, Avant, Faith Evans and Ray Parker, Jr.

It must be liberating to be classified as a smooth or contemporary jazz artist these days. One the one hand, you have some artists making straight up early to mid 1970s style jazz/funk/rock fusion records. On the other hand, artists like Brian Culbertson move with audacity toward funk and R&B and even Go-Go music. That's the move that Culbertson makes on his 12th studio album - appropriately titled XII.

The 12 tracks on this album have an even split between instrumental contemporary jazz and R&B and funk tunes complete with vocals by some big name vocalists from the past and present. Culbertson recruited Go-Go king Chuck Brown to lend vocals to the bouncy jam "Feelin' It." Other guest vocalists include Kenny Lattimore, Brian McKnight, Avant, Faith Evans and Ray Parker, Jr.

Those R&B vocals give XII a level of variety and flow that might have been lacking if the album consisted solely of contemporary jazz instrumentals. Lattimore's contribution, "Another Love," sets a relaxing mid-tempo pace that bridges the verses with a catchy hook. McKnight steps out of his loverman balladeer persona on the stepper's anthem "Out on the Floor." Avant's vocals sail like a kite on the love song "Skies Wide Open." And Faith Evans steals the show on the soulful anthem, "Don't U Know Me By Now," in which she implores her needy lover to stop asking what's wrong and read the signs.

To his credit, Culbertson appears to be energized when sharing the stage with these singers. Another positive is that Culbertson interspersed the instrumental selections so that they provide a change of pace to the vocals. The vocals selections are clearly XII's strong point, and it's good that those numbers are mixed in with the instrumentals because the vocal numbers prevent the groove from becoming a rut. I think Culbertson's heart is really with funk and R&B, and XII would have been stronger if it had leaned to 60-40 or even 7-30 to that side. Culbertson decides to provide a little something for all of his adult contemporary listeners. He'll jam and let his listeners decide. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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