Brian Culbertson's career is what dreams are made of. The multi-instrumentalist and multi-tasking writer, arranger and producer was a 20-year old college student authoring commercial jingles for corporate giants such as McDonald's, Sears, United Airlines and Oldsmobile when he recorded his smooth jazz debut CD in a bedroom of the Chicago apartment he shared with three college buddies.
Self-produced and unencumbered by industry expectations, Long Night Out was an instant sensation, spending ten consecutive weeks in the Top 5 on R&R and Gavin's Contemporary Jazz chart and hanging at #2 for six of those weeks. The 1994 release jump-started a new direction for Culbertson, spawning a successful run of chart-topping CDs and #1 singles, as he also became one of the most in-demand artists for production and writing collaborations in the business.
His seventh solo effort, Come On Up, continues his journey as a multi-faceted musician who knows himself well enough to follow his own path. Never one to overly concern himself with radio niches and genre limitations, his latest creation pushes the boundaries a bit more. "I was ready for something a little different. People will still recognize that it's my work, but this CD is definitely more contemporary. There's more pop, more R&B influence, with a bit of urban mixed in. It is upbeat and really fun."
Culbertson's meteoric rise should not be mistaken for overnight success. His musical destiny began at age 8 on the piano, followed by the drums at age 9, trombone at age 10, and bass at age 12. Inspired by a broad range of artists - Chicago, Tower of Power, Maynard Ferguson, the Brecker Brothers, Blood, Sweat & Tears, David Sanborn and a trumpet-playing, award-winning high school jazz band director (also known as Brian's father, Jim) - his talents as a writer were evident as early as junior high when his final 7th grade piano recital was entirely original compositions. His future set in motion, Culbertson built his own studio in the basement of his parents' home, and merging his enthusiasm for music with the emerging technology of computers, the high school student by day - composer/producer by night scored a long list of prestigious Downbeat student awards for trombone, piano and composition.
But for Culbertson, the awards, accolades and artistic notoriety were just beginning. His debut CD netted a 1994 Best New Artist of the Year nomination in Keyboard Magazine, and his 1995 follow-up Modern Life dominated radio charts at #1 for eight consecutive weeks and capped off the year with #2 honors by both R&R and Gavin. His 1996 release - After Hours - not only fulfilled musical expectations and furthered his chart-topping run by reaching R&R's Top Ten, but also firmly positioned Culbertson as a "must see" on the touring circuit and garnered praise from Jazziz : "Culbertson's production skills have never been more mature."
The 1997 Secrets followed the now well-established Culbertson habit - charting as an NAC favorite - and with that, Culbertson inaugurated a new tradition by copping his first #1 single - "So Good". The 1999 Somethin' Bout Love brought the studio-savvy college student turned smooth jazz star even greater success with two hit singles - "Do You Really Love Me?" and "Back in the Day" - plus a year-long ride on Top 20 contemporary jazz charts.
Widely considered to be Culbertson's best work to date, the critically acclaimed Nice & Slow owned Billboard's top spot for six weeks in 2002 and produced two #1 hit singles: "Get It On" and "All About You". By now, his high-energy stage presence and eclectic sense of humor made him a welcome regular headlining jazz festivals and radio-sponsored events, including a two-year stint on the Dave Koz-helmed "Smooth Summer Nights" tour with Culbertson labelmate Norman Brown. "I originally saw myself as composer/producer - a studio guy. With the release of Long Night Out, I found out I had to tour. I was like 'you mean I have to have a band and everything?'. Luckily, I was able to grow into it and build up my confidence. Like theater actors will tell you, there's nothing like instant gratification! So much energy comes from performing in front of a live audience. However, sometimes I just close my eyes and allow myself to get enveloped in the music."
Speaking of instant gratification...that's likely to be the response of Culbertson fans to his latest release. Meticulously crafted and masterfully produced, he showcases his remarkable talent and extends his creative reach to Stephen Lu (Brandy, Ray J) in production duties, as well as many co-writers and guest artists. Another deeply satisfying result of this CD is Culbertson's decision to incorporate members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra string section on three of the twelve tracks.
The tone for Come On Up is set with the bass/keyboard driven "Intro" that folds energetically into "Say What?". Featuring Steve Cole on sax & soulful background vocals courtesy of Ricky Peterson, the R&B, urban-tinged track enhanced by an Earth Wind & Fire flavored horn section is worth the price of the CD all on its own. By the time you hit the next track "Midnight" featuring the funky bass of Marcus Miller, you'll be convinced that you absolutely must see how this musical ride ends!
The CD also includes an inspired cover of the Earth Wind & Fire hit "Serpentine Fire," and spotlights the soulful vocals of R&B crooner - Rahsaan Patterson on "Fly High" and the sexy, sultry sound of trumpeter and labelmate Rick Braun on "Last Night". Covering the full gamut of human emotion, Culbertson allows his personal vulnerability an appropriate place in his body of work. Dedicated to his wife, Michelle, "Our Love" was originally recorded for their wedding's first dance.
Eager fans will not have to wait very long for the live version of the latest and soon-to-be-released Culbertson creation. There is a major tour in the works that will even include his father on trumpet.
There can be no doubt that Culbertson is hitting his artistic stride in Come On Up. While maintaining his own identity, he broadens his vision by carving out a niche undaunted by commercial influences or format boundaries. Brilliantly focused and holding nothing back, he adeptly threads pop, soul, R&B and urban sounds into smooth jazz, creating an uplifting musical mosaic - and enticing even those who claim to shun instrumental music.
--- from the official Brian Culbertson website