One of smooth jazz's funkiest and most popular artists, Brian Culbertson has engaged the genre's audiences for years with a perfect mix of lively funk, jazzy piano and keyboard energy, and a softer intimate side that earned him one critic's designation as "the Barry White of smooth jazz." Faced with trying to find new ways to skin the cat of holiday songs that have been done a million times, Culby exceeds all expectations, bringing every side of his charismatic magic touch to standards you won't mind hearing just one more time. He gets off to a rousing, big-production start, jamming wildly on an in-your-face bluesy, jazzy, gospel take on "Joy to the World" (complete with a gospel choir), then seeks Dave Koz's help in creating a sweet, subtle arrangement of "Deck the Halls." The vibe rides like a roller coaster from there, starting with a rousing, slightly stride-influenced "Jingle Bells" (which breaks into a fun, Ramsey Lewis-flavored traditional jazz verse and includes a big-band segment featuring Culbertson's other instrument, the trombone). It's incredible what happens when he enlists Jeff Lorber and Peter White to help him arrange two other classics -- Lorber helps Culby get even funkier and White brings out that intimate side. Amid the sizzle and cool are some unique and unexpected vocal treats -- Michael McDonald on the soaring, original power soul ballad "All Through the Christmas Night" and a stunning, crystalline pop classical vocal by wife Michelle Culbertson (who in 2006 released the inspirational album Be Still My Soul) on the lesser-heard "Some Children See Him." Culbertson also creates a trippy, off-meter percussion vibe on "Little Drummer Boy" that creates a fascinating impressionistic feeling. Calling this work A Soulful Christmas is a good marketing idea, but soul is only the beginning of a collection that truly captures the many emotions of the holidays -- and the artist at his most creative.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran
feat: Michael McDonald
feat: Michelle Culbertson
feat: Marc Nelson