Brian Culbertson

Dreams

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On Dreams, Brian Culbertson attempts to dig further into the vein he opened on 2010's XII, where he seamlessly married adult-oriented R&B to contemporary jazz. In fact, Dreams feels like a bookend of sorts. He employs an alternating cast of studio aces who include Alex Al, John "Jubu" Smith, Eric Marienthal, Michael Stever, Ray Parker, Jr., Rex Rideout, and Rob "Fonksta" Bacon, as well as a trio of vocalists: Stokley Williams (Mint Condition), Vivian Green, and Noel Gourdin. There are some stellar numbers here, including the Williams vehicle, "No Limits," a midtempo babymaker. Culbertson's acoustic piano, Smith's guitar, and some pronounced loops ride atop the bassline to frame the singer's mellifluous tenor. This cut is the sweet spot where neo-soul, adult R&B, and contemporary jazz create a classy pop sound. Green's moment, "Still Here," juxtaposes her taut vocal against acoustic piano and Rideout's fat synth bass with an insistent loop. The result is dramatic. Opening instrumental "Later Tonight" features some nice horn work from Marienthal, Stever -- and Culbertson on trombone -- and very fine guitar from Bacon. Its melody is instantly recognizable with the horns being used sparely but effectively in the mix. "In the City" may be the strongest of the instrumentals, with a deep bass groove and chugging, almost dubwise, rhythm. Here too, the horns fill the backdrop as Smith's guitar accents the bassline. All of these cuts are in the first half of the album. "You're My Music," sung by Gourdin, is a nice soul-pop bubbler and the title track, with its infectious melody and contrasting acoustic and electric guitars, offers a wonderful palette of textures. The three closing instrumentals, however, are less distinguishable. They seem to blunt the impact of the set's previous cuts rather than provide the kind of balance -- one suspects -- Culbertson was looking to create. As "Chapter Two" of XII, this works well, but as an album, Dreams doesn't reach its predecessor's heights.

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