Even though Brian Culbertson might be categorized as jazz lite, his music has enough "oomph" to keep you interested. The talented composer, arranger, keyboardist, and trombonist displayed a talent beyond his years at an early age, and credits his dad with helping him develop an ear for the type of music he makes.
His father, Jim Culbertson, a respected high-school jazz band director and trumpeter, cultivated a love of sanguine sounds in the young Brian, who eagerly listened to anything his dad put on the stereo. Their Decatur, Illinois, home would be alive with the recorded sounds of Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, the Brecker Brothers, and David Sanborn. Growing up, Culbertson also listened to '70s R&B/pop/funk bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears, Tower of Power, and Earth, Wind & Fire. He began his musical training at the age of eight with piano lessons; at nine he moved to drums, at ten trombone, and at 12 bass. Bored with classical recital pieces, he began composing in junior high. By his freshman year in high school, Culbertson was experimenting with the then-new Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer and an old four-track recorder in the basement of his parents' home. His dedication earned him six individual and five group Down Beat student awards.
During his high-school years, Culbertson started getting into MIDI sequencing and synthesizers. He couldn't find musicians who were able to play his songs on the level he wanted, as most of his peers were into heavy metal, so Culbertson, who cites pop producer/songwriter David Foster (Earth, Wind & Fire's "After the Love Is Gone") as one of his strongest influences, learned how to play all the parts himself. After graduation, he headed to Chicago to begin studies in the music program at DePaul University. On campus, he began to run into high-level musicians and started playing in a band.
A family friend helped Culbertson get a deal with Mesa/Blue Moon in 1994. In the bedroom of the apartment he shared with three college buddies, he recorded his debut album, Long Night Out, playing most of the instruments himself but also enlisting a small backing group. The LP spent ten consecutive weeks in the Top Five of the adult contemporary charts. On his follow-up album, Modern Life, Culbertson eschewed the one-man band approach in favor of a live band made up of some of the best musicians in Chicago, plus stellar saxophonist Gerald Albright.
In 2008, Culbertson released Bringing Back the Funk, an acclaimed album that is credited with bringing new life to the urban jazz genre. It featured a sizable list of collaborators including Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Ray Parker, Jr., and David T. Walker. He followed it with a live album in 2009 and XII, a return to the studio, in 2010. In June 2012, Culbertson released Dreams, his 13th album, featuring a host of all-star contemporary jazz and R&B session players and vocalists. Later that year, he set about realizing a dream project.
Now an independent artist, Culbertson had long desired to revisit the music from his 1994 debut offering, Long Night Out, initially cut in his apartment on a very limited budget. In 2013, he re-recorded the same tracks with a large all-star lineup that included Nathan East, Russ Freeman, Steve Lukather, and Candy Dulfer, to name a few, plus a 33-piece orchestra. Entitled Another Long Night Out, it was issued on his own BCM label in February 2014. Two years later, he delivered the concert album Live: 20th Anniversary Tour, showcasing his band in concert at Yoshi's in San Francisco. The full-length Colors of Love appeared in 2018, and reached the top of the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. A trio album, Winter Stories, arrived the following year. In 2020, Culberston issued his 20th studio album, the aptly titled XX, featuring guest vocals from Bootsy Collins, Avery Sunshine, and Noel Gourdin. ~ Ed Hogan