Below, I continue my ranking of 12 CD albums by Brian Culbertson. I lead off with my No. 7 pick, Another Long Night Out:
7. Another Long Night Out (2014)
Culbertson celebrated his 20-year career milestone two years ago by remaking his first CD album with a title aptly named Another Long Night Out.
Due to several artistic limitations in 1994, Culbe could not produce his first album, Long Night Out, with professional-grade sound. Twenty years later, the artist collected numerous awards and nominations and enjoyed chart success within the smooth jazz community. He also reached a point in his career where he could produce albums independently. Heading his own production label, BCM Entertainment, Inc., and utilizing his past success allowed him more flexibility to invite other known artists to play real instruments on this 2014 recording. Special guest artists included Eric Marienthal, Rick Braun, Chuck Loeb, Candy Dulfer, Lee Ritenour, Jonathan Butler, “Patches” Stewart, Russ Freeman (from The Rippingtons), and Steve Lukather (from Todo).
Of the remade pieces, “Fullerton Ave.” stands out, thanks to some supreme guitar playing by Loeb. Loeb’s nice vamp in the middle of the track along with Culbe’s bass short licks gave this track some extra pop.
“City Lights” is another track I fondly enjoy the revival of. When I hear the song playing in my car, I often imagine school bands, especially near Decatur, Ill., someday replaying the piece in Culbe’s honor.
In all, Culbe finally produced and played his original debut songs the way they were supposed to sound. Although I had already liked the original tunes, Another Long Night Out allowed me to appreciate his first ever recording. It also makes sense that the remake would sound better than the original.
8. Long Night Out (1994)
Long Night Out is arguably Culbertson’s most ambitious album, given the limitations the musician dealt with in 1994.
While attending DePaul University, in Chicago, Culbe recorded the album in his apartment above a costume shop. Due to expenses and little exposure, he could neither afford professional studio space nor assess top-notch session musicians. So, his apartment became the makeshift studio for his first CD album.
In fact, the second track, “Fullerton Ave,” is named after the street his apartment windows overlooked.
My favorite song from his original recording is “Alone With You.” In his remake, 20 years later, Culbe slowed the tempo to create a more intimate mood for the piece. Chuck Loeb created an effect with a guitar solo to open up the remake as well. Despite the changes later on, I actually like the original song more.
For these and the other tracks, Culbe recorded keyboard, bass, percussion, syn, and other sounds for with the help what was considered cutting-edge technology for musicians 20 years ago. A few of his colleagues did also lend their supporting instruments on this record. Given his artistic restraints, but dogged determination, Culbe produced a respectable first album. Long Night Out earns top-ten credit for that.
9. Nice & Slow (2001)
Nice & Slow features more R&B and slow jam tracks by Culbertson. Like Somethin’ Bout Love, the album before this, these pieces shows the pianist’s flexibility of playing styles. The record is also a nice departure from his heavy-funk-sounding pieces, for those who like the smoother side of contemporary jazz.
Culbe’s sixth recording also features vocals on a few tracks. However, I am more particularly fond of his instrumental pieces, like “Without Your Love.”
“I Could Get Used To This” is my favorite on the album. Dave Koz joins Culbe on this soft track. In fact, Culbertson earned his shortened nickname “Culbe” from Koz. Early in his career, the pianist appeared on a radio show Koz hosted. The duo eventually toured together a few times later on.
Koz also plays his sax on “All About You,” which is another great soft piece by Culbe.
Another successful jazz artist named Jeff Lorber helped Culbe with the opening track, titled “Just Another Day.”
The same year this album came out, 2001, Culbe won a National Smooth Jazz Award for Best Keyboardist.
10. Dreams (2012)
Dreams is a departure from Culbertson’s Bringing Back The Funk record four years before it. He said he wanted this album to feature more slow jam and soft groove tracks. As it is titled, the album features the theme of dreams and compassionate late-night vibes. Culbe earned two award nominations for this completed project in 2012 — NAACP Image Award’s Best Jazz Album and Soul Train Award’s Best Contemporary Jazz Album.
You’ll understand Culbe’s concept of the late-night love mood by hearing the first track titled “Later Tonight.” Grammy-award-winning saxophonist Eric Marienthal reinforces the pianist’s melody with layers of clean brass. In a video blog, Culbe said he “took all the low end and the body out” of Marienthal’s takes of saxes to simplify the chorus on this song.
Another refreshing instrumental I enjoy is “Your Smile.” I’m guessing that Michelle, Culbertson’s wife, inspired the pianist with years of displaying her happy expression to him. The song sounds more like instrumental pop to me, which is different than Culbe’s signature sound but still good.
The groove picks up a little bit with a later track titled “In The City.” Then, a slower, lazier song titled “Madelena” features a soft acoustic guitar track by Spanish jazz player Marc Antoine.
A vocal I do like features Stokley Williams on “No Limits.” Singing this beautiful lyrical song, he reminds his lover that wherever they go his love is there, and he wants to “fall deep in it, love with no limits.”
Culbe closes the album out right with a very new age-sounding track titled “The Journey.”
Finally, I find the cover of Dreams (pictured above) to be one of the most interesting of Culberton’s records.
11. Somethin’ Bout Love (1999)
Just falling out of my top ten, sits Somethin’ Bout Love. Ignore my bias of seemingly favoring Culbertson’s high energy, funk records over those that feature soft vibe and slow jam. Forget my ranking here. His fifth album is one of his classics.
Culbe didn’t let us wait long for the title track. “Somethin’ Bout Love” features provocative, but clean, lyrics by Donnell Spencer, Jr.
Two of the keyboardist’s hits also appear on this record. “Do You Really Love Me” and “Back In The Day” are the two songs, which Culbe has performed on tour.
In addition to the two popular songs, one the first songs I heard by Culbe is on this album. Titled “Sittin’ Back,” the song is a soft, light jazz piece.
Another song you have to hear on this album is Culbe’s cover of “The Secret Garden.” Originally, written and composed by Quincy Jones, the song appears in both instrumental and vocal versions. Although this may not be an original piece by Culbe, the instrumental is probably my favorite piece on this album.
Finally, I must share what I recently discovered about track No. 7, titled “It’s Only You.” I never knew Culbe played with the late Wayman Tisdale until I saw the credits for this particular track. Tisdale was an NBA power forward-turned smooth jazz bassist, who tragically died of bone cancer. The bassist’s upbeat style pairs well with Culbe’s signature soft jam.
12. Modern Life (1995)
Modern Life was Culberton’s second recording. Like his first album, Long Night Out, a few limitations restrained his ability to produce certain sounds essential to his core music. However, he did feature more live instruments and earn exposure through friends at DePaul University and on Chicago radio.
Possibly the only song considered a hit on this early album is “Come To Me.” Culbe has played a slower version of this song on tour and on his Live From The Inside, 2008, compilation DVD/CD album.
A few other songs might pique your interest into the artist’s early discography.
The opening track, titled “Tomorrow’s World,” features a soft, but upbeat, keyboard melody.
Two tracks later is “Without The Rain.” Culbe plays the keyboards and piano on this very low tempo song. You will hear the accompanying sounds of a nylon and a steel string guitar in this track.
Later on, popular saxophonist Gerald Albright plays along on “Take Me Home To You.”
Despite Culberton’s second album sounding close to elevator music, it is interesting enough for relaxation.
♦ So, there are my rankings of CDs produced by Brian Culbertson. Maybe those of you who listen to smooth jazz might have a different opinion. Perhaps those of you who just now heard of the popular keyboardist may have some feedback as well. I’d like to hear your thoughts.
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