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. Smooth jazz fans are well blessed with Christmas albums that stay on the right side of cool and this year have another seasonal gem to add to their festive collection. A Soulful Christmas is Brian Culbertson’s first ‘holiday’ project and although, overall, it is his ninth release the concept is one he has carried with him since day one. Maybe that is why once the project was given the green light the arrangements and music came both quickly and spontaneously. From April 2006 the CD was completed in a very intensive three months period. In this respect the process benefited from the fact that much of the work was done in Culbertson’s state of the art home studio, BCM Studios, and as collaborations with good friends. The result is an album that is brim full of Culbertson’s special musical magic.
Brian Culbertson is an artist and producer always in search of the ‘wow factor’ and he immediately finds it with the multi layered ‘Joy To The World’. The thirty second intro played by a brass quintet of trumpet, piccolo trumpet, French horn, trombone and tuba has that delicious feeling of Christmas’s gone by and gives no hint of the soulful take on the song that is to follow. Complete with a gospel choir, great use of horns and BC’s tight piano its Christmas music at its uplifting best. Keeping the tempo high is the mega funky version of ‘Jingle Bells’. A Christmas favorite like you have never heard it before it finds Culbertson veering between swing and funk and underpinning it all with a full blown big band vibe that he engineers from only his own trombone, the sax of Eric Marienthal and the trumpet of Wayne Bergeron. ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’ also has that same big sound but, courtesy of Jorge Evans on guitar, a trombone solo from BC and Jeff Lorber’s Wurlitzer electric piano, is raucous as well while in complete contrast is ‘The First Noel’. Poignant and orchestrally charged it finds Culbertson’s versatility and production genius both in over drive.
‘Deck The Halls’ was arranged by Culbertson with Dave Koz and is played on the album as a vintage piano and sax duet with Warren Hill. It retains the beauty of the original melody but has a subtle contemporary twist. Equally faithful is ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’. With all the magic of the traditional tune it features sensational interplay between Culbertson and Peter White whose guitar sounds as unmistakable as ever. Two memorable Culbertson moments are delivered back to back. Although Brian’s wife Michelle has previously appeared on his CD’s as a backing singer she takes the lead for ‘Some Children See Him’. Her classically trained soprano tones are made in heaven for this haunting tune and equally stunning is Culbertson’s simple yet evocative interpretation of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ that features significant percussion from Brian Bromberg, Lennie Castro and Vinnie Colaiuta.
Contender for Secret Garden killer cut is ‘This Christmas’ where BC uses wonderful horns and his own distinctive keys for a hip take on Donny Hathaway’s composition from 1971. However, just shading it is the albums one original composition ‘All Through The Christmas Night’. Oozing with Culbertson’s unique vibe and with a wonderful vocal track from the legendary Michael McDonald this is a modern day Christmas classic in the making.
What is sure to evolve into one of the stand out Christmas albums of all time comes to a fitting and spine tingling conclusion with ‘Silent Night’. The delicate vocals of regular Culbertson contributor Marc Nelson plus the multi tracking sophistication of BC’s production makes this very special indeed. Culbertson sums up ‘A Soulful Christmas’ by reflecting that that the songs included “are about the music that got you excited when you were a kid with your family. Everything you hear on this CD I either played a lot or heard a lot when I was growing up. It’s all things Christmas...wrapped up in one album.”
Now, more than just an album, Brian Culbertson is taking his A Soulful Christmas on the road for a December concert tour. Featuring special guests Bobby Caldwell, Ray Parker Jr. Warren Hill and Eric Darius it will be mixture of Christmas music, some of the artist’s greatest hits and much jamming in the Christmas spirit. For more on the schedule go to www.brianculbertson.comPosted by Denis Poole at December 8, 2006 6:55 PM