Thursday, August 23, 2012

Brian Culbertson Dreams Verve 2012 / "Upon Further Review..."

I consider myself a jazz advocate more so than a traditional critic. If a piece of music can get someone talking about or listening to what is commonly considered jazz then that is a good thing - up to a point.

It would be hypocritical at best to not stand by my published word that the best a critic can offer is "perspective" and it is in that spirit that I decided to take a second look at this release. That and his publicist gave me the impression I could have been too harsh or hasty in my initial critique. It happens. I am one of the few writers willing to admit a potential rush to judgement and certainly open to a second take on a release if necessary to make sure the reader is fully informed before purchase, that and the artist should be offering up something substantial to qualify for discussion. Culbertson more than qualifies with Dreams.Sometimes a release can grow on you and Dreams is a prime example. The sticking point in discussing this release with Culbertson's publicist was primarily one of semantics. Is it jazz or is it r&b? While the publicist does reference the r&b vibe numerous times on the press release, Dreams is charting incredibly well (as predicted) on the Billboard jazz charts. Genre here is a push. A rose by any other name...

The number one pet peeve of the majority of "smooth jazz" listeners has to be adding mediocre vocals on what would normally be a fairly substantial instrumental work. There are three vocal tracks here and all with definite cross over potential. While some would argue the vocals take away from hearing more of Culbertson's prolific keyboard work the bottom line is there is no real harm done. The somewhat conceptual nature of this project accounts for an ebb and flow that when compared to other releases of similar genre would in fact be superior to most product available today. There is a deceptively subtle ambient quality to Dreams which is unlike any previous Culbertson release to date which may account for the "growth factor" previously mentioned.

 Culbertson brought in R&B producer Rex Rideout and a host of other name R&B players such as Michael Thompson who has gigged with Babyface and Toni Braxton with the end result being what several label executives predicted 2 years ago as perhaps the new sound or direction for the often maligned smooth jazz market.  If you are in fact a smooth jazz fan and a fan of Brian Culbertson then there is all most a 98% chance you will enjoy this release all though using the word jazz is like saying my knowledge of addition and subtraction qualifies me as an accountant. In giving this release a second spin I was reminded of what guitarist Chris Standring said to me in a previous interview, " An artist is as creative as he or she feels the need to be at any given point in time." Taking the genre of the smoother side of jazz at face value then Culbertson's Dreams is as creative and in some cases more creative than some releases flooding the market. Similar to label mate Boney James, Culbertson doesn't need my recommendation as a release of nursery rhymes would in all likely hood chart in the top ten as a debut. A commerical release is not bad simply due to mass appeal, it can be commerical while charting some new ground and Dreams is a break in the conventional sound that has the smoother side of jazz dying a slow death. Culbertson is filling a creative void and Dreams may indeed be that new sound smooth jazz has been looking for.

A critic much like an artist should be open to evaluation on an on going basis. Some would question my integrity in doing a second review. Integrity is why I did a second take, preconceived notions should never interfere with taking an artists work at face value. While I still believe this is outside the traditional boundaries of what "we" consider jazz - it is as solid a recording as you may hear over a number of genres for the year. I'm not going to worry about what you call the music but I would recommend this to fans of contemporary jazz or r&b. Good music is good music. Different is never bad, it is just different.

Tracks: Later Tonight; No Limits; Your Smile; Still Here; In The City; You're My Music; Dreams; Madelena; Lights Off; The Journey.