Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. That delicious space somewhere between smooth jazz and R & B where rhythm and melody blends with a soulful groove is where many smooth jazz artists aspire to be. Some achieve it fleetingly, others never at all, yet Brian Culbertson has managed it consistently over a career that is just about to reach even greater heights with the July 26 release of his debut album on GRP, Its On Tonight.
That Culbertson left his listening public on such a high with his 2003 Come On Up has made the wait seem even longer but now, with what is being promoted as a ‘12-song seduction suite’, his eighth album in all, he is back with a sensuous collection full of the vibe that we have come to associate with him. The song writing collaboration he struck up on Come On Up with Stephen Lu is again in evidence as the partnership contribute some of the strongest numbers in a collection that has no weak links.
From the first note of the first track, ‘BFO’, which has a vocal contribution from Ledisi and is pure Culbertson throughout, the listener knows a treat is in store. ‘Hookin Up’ has already been identified as the first number to be lifted for radio play and is more classic Culbertson. In fact Culbertson classics abound. ‘Forbidden Love’, ‘Secret Affair’ with Chris Botti providing some standout trumpet and ‘Touch Me’ are all examples of the artist at the very top of his game.
The word infectious is perhaps overused in music reviews but it’s a word that sums up this hallmark sound that gets in your head and wont go away: with tracks like ‘Dreaming Of You’ you will never want it to. This lean, semi acoustic number with haunting violin from Culbertson’s wife, Michelle, is simple in its construction yet stunning. The title track, which will inevitably be seen by many as the centerpiece to the CD, has lyrics penned by Marc Nelson and is blessed by the luscious vocals of Will Downing. It marks the point in the album to really turn the lights down low.
Even though this is unashamedly a ‘make out’ album Brian has recorded only original songs and opted not to include any covers of bedroom classics. His thinking here is that if people are buying the record for the purpose for which he intended, he didn't want to do any remakes. Culbertson reasons that cover songs will evoke memories and he doesn’t want to put any memories into listeners’ heads other than the new ones they are creating themselves while in the moment.
Talking of ‘in the moment’, the track ‘Sensuality’, complete with the subtle horns that are a Culbertson trademark, puts you right there while ‘The Way You Feel’, enriched by Boney James on sax, has a simple melody that is hard to forget.
The ultra sexy and seductive ‘Wear It Out’, that features Az Yet vocalist and Babyface protégé Marc Nelson is in the late night R & B groove while the killer cut from the entire collection comes courtesy of ‘Love Will Never Let You Down’. With vocals from Patti Austin, an incredible contribution from Kirk Whalum on sax and some wonderful Culbertson playing it’s a number brimming with soul and is so far off the feel good scale its out of sight.
As Culbertson basks in the afterglow of the final track ‘Reflections’ he can consider that his aim to create a concept album has been well and truly successful. In laying down grooves designed to accompany every stage of romance he has not only provided a backdrop for people to chill out, relax and do what they need to do he has, into the bargain, come up with what will undoubtedly be one of the smooth jazz sensations of 2005.Posted by Denis Poole at July 18, 2005 5:21 PM