A bit of free-form studio doodling opens Come on Up on a promising note: players try out their licks, joke semiaudibly among themselves, and create a sense through their banter that you're in for some exceptional interactions in the give-and-take tradition of jazz. What follows, though, is a typical performance for the smooth genre, in which the musicians either play what's on their charts, solo within stylistic limits.
On Dreams, Brian Culbertson attempts to dig further into the vein he opened on 2010's XII, where he seamlessly married adult-oriented R&B to contemporary jazz. In fact, Dreams feels like a bookend of sorts. He employs an alternating cast of studio aces who include Alex Al, John "Jubu" Smith, Eric Marienthal, Michael Stever, Ray Parker, Jr., Rex Rideout, and Rob "Fonksta" Bacon, as well as a trio of vocalists: Stokley Williams (Mint Condition), Vivian Green, and Noel Gourdin. There are some stellar numbers here, including the Williams vehicle, "No Limits," a midtempo babymaker. Culbertson's acoustic piano, Smith's guitar, and some pronounced loops ride atop the bassline to frame the singer's mellifluous tenor. This cut is the sweet spot where neo-soul, adult R&B, and contemporary jazz create a classy pop sound.
One of smooth jazz's brightest young keyboardists seems to be caught in the same marketing trap as his contemporaries – aiming to please radio programmers first, and waiting till very late in the running order of the disc to challenge himself – and listeners who have many other new and similarly likeable keyboard releases to choose from. When he finally blows his lid on Secrets and goes for broke, it's a joyous affair, as the eight-minute closing track "At the Backroom" finds Brian Culbertson jamming hardcore blues/funk and bouncing off the inspirations of older cats like Jeff Golub (guitar) and Ricky Peterson (wicked on the Hammond B-3).
Some fans of contemporary jazz remember that Brian Culbertson's debut album, 1994's A Long Night Out, was actually a series of demos cut in his apartment. He played most instruments himself but had help from a small group of friends. On its 20th anniversary comes Another Long Night Out, a track-by-track re-recording of that initial offering, played by the artist surrounded by a studio dream team. It signals another debut of sorts – the first release from his own BCM label. Each track here contains a featured soloist, but the bands he's assembled here are comprised of veteran, sometimes legendary talent.
We have all been in situations where we have brought up the subject of the music we love only to be asked ‘what’s smooth jazz?’ It is a question not always easy to answer and one that forms the motivation for this occasional feature unremarkably called ‘What’s Smooth Jazz?’ Designed to illustrate some of the most definitive examples of the genre, it has, up until this point, always concentrated on specific tracks. However, with the recent release of Brian Culbertson’s ‘Live From The Inside’ there is now an entire album that can be used to demonstrate how perfect smooth jazz is meant to sound.