Brian Culbertson - Bringing Back The Funk (2008)

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    Brian Culbertson
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    Why do white performers of traditionally black music feel compelled to bring something back that nobody knew was missing? Clairvoyant to a fault, these sacrificial lambs always seem to be out to help those less fortunate while also enriching their bankrol-uhm...soul.

    Why do white performers of traditionally black music feel compelled to bring something back that nobody knew was missing? Clairvoyant to a fault, these sacrificial lambs always seem to be out to help those less fortunate while also enriching their bankrol-uhm...soul.

    First, the Michael Jackson wanna-be acolyte, Justin Timberlake, was bringing "Sexy Back," because, you know, Americans had become pretty repellent in recent years. Who knew synthy pop was just the Viagra we needed to get STDs again? Clap for Justin! Timberlake's fellow Mouseketeer and part-time dominatrix pin-up, Christian Aguilera (yes, we're aware of the salsa singer's occasional half-Ecuadorian heritage), decided intolerance of AARP members' music was America's true cultural crisis. Chastened listeners agreed with her no nonsense Back to Basics reforms, signing up for two plus hours of revisionist history lessons and turning in the best Sound Scan scores of Aguilera's career. And Tina's blue-eyed soul Samaritan, Amy Winehouse, with her description of "Rehab," has led countless drug users Back to Black, proving she can unearth any joy inducing substance known to fans. Demonstrating an intimate understanding of the felonious and a rare political knack for accurately naming her initiatives, Amy's five-finger discount on one dapper band was the clue that led relapsed fiends back to Sharon Jones. You know, we didn't even know Ms. Sharon was missing until Ms. Amy's very public rescue; a real selfless angel, that one.

    Now, perhaps inspired by this lucrative rich history of musical largesse, here comes Brian Culbertson ready to lead his own public service crusade against our nation's neurotic penchant for hygiene by Bringing Back The Funk for - as his website puts it - "...a very needy world."

    Before you assault him for following a lineage of arrogant presumptions, it seems the smooth jazz instrumentalist and consistent Billboard chart topper (Nice & Slow and It's On Tonight were both #1 Contemporary Jazz albums) may be on to something. Like his blue-eyed predecessors, Culbertson, has indeed uncovered a sound that has been missing from the musical mainstream, only this time credible it's jazz-funk. Like the before mentioned artists, Culbertson has smartly reached out to some of the best black musicians in the business to help him fill this commercial radio gap. No less than Earth, Wind and Fire's founder, Maurice White, is executive producing Bringing Back The Funk. White was apparently impressed enough with Culbertson's 2003 cover of EWF's "Serpentine Fire" to reach out to the young keyboard and trombone player.

    White was not alone in his impressions; furthering evidence of Culbertson's street cred is a virtual Who's Who of jazz, funk and soul. Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Ronnie Laws, Ray Parker Jr., Gerald Albright, Paul Jackson Jr. and Rufus's Tony Maiden and Bobby Watson are just a few big name musicians interplaying with Culbertson on ...Funk. Solo bet hedgers, Ledisi and Musiq Soulchild, along with backing work by Sharon Jones (see, we told you all the fiends had found her) and legendary session singers, Perri, all but guarantee the commercial success of this soul meets jazz-funk reunion.

    While the big names assure critical attention and radio airplay, do the back to black rhythm section and old school voices deliver artistically? Bet your bottom dollar, they do. From Bootsy's playful word creation on the jammin' opening number "Funkin' Like My Father" to Culbertson's skillful keys on the EWF flavored "Let's Stay Tonight," Bringing Back The Funk captures the fun, joy and sophistication of classic jazz-funk. On almost every track the horn section thrills, guitar players smoke, and Culbertson's key work shows up to throw down. Few can argue that this Chicago white boy doesn't more than hold his own among this highly regarded crowd of star vets.

    Most of the solo vocalists also bring their A-game. On an album of standouts, Ledisi's cover of Bill Withers' "The World Keeps Going Around" still funks up the joint like no other. However, Chance Howard's channeling of James Brown on the from-the-party-to-the-pulpit jam, "You Got To Funkifize" gives Ledisi a serious contender for top honors. Howard's not the only one channeling voices. Esteemed Rhodes and Wurlitzer musician, Eddie Miller, lays down an eerily familiar baritone on Culbertson's pimp-walking cover of Donny Hathaway's "Voices Inside (Everything is Everything)." You want a bit more from Musiq on the rollicking "Hollywood Swinging," but the phenomenal instrumentalists and a kick-ass funk choir more than fill the gap in Soulchild's perfunctory performance. Making a twelve-layer cake of their own unique doo-wop harmonies on the sweet-toothed "Always Remember," the EWF alumni will soon have you forgetting the neo-soul child's humorous attempts to play with his elders.  

    The strange thing about the music business is that sometimes art meeting commerce farms more than a market-savvy radio product. Sometimes its most talented and studious planters do indeed grow a nutritious fruit that a famished world had forgotten it hungered for. Sometimes these do-gooders with their cultural ESP, strong ear for history and unfailing intuition for our souls' rumblings, actually do bring us back to the fundamentals, back to what enriches and fulfills our lives. And, yes, sometimes you want to begrudge these prosperous, second-sighted heroes for being so astute but you can't, not when in the process a jazz head's need to save the world from a life without funk, actually succeeds. Highly recommended.

    -L. Michael Gipson