Brian Culbertson

Come on Up

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A bit of free-form studio doodling opens Come on Up on a promising note: players try out their licks, joke semiaudibly among themselves, and create a sense through their banter that you're in for some exceptional interactions in the give-and-take tradition of jazz. What follows, though, is a typical performance for the smooth genre, in which the musicians either play what's on their charts, solo within stylistic limits of almost biblical rigidity (i.e., saxophone solos must adhere to the gospel of David Sanborn), or play against the relentless backbeat rather than anything less predictable. Technically, every note here is crisp and every ensemble part is tight -- but given the idiom, it couldn't be otherwise, any more than a bluegrass band could feature a less-than-lightning-fingered banjo wizard. What's most revealing about the material on Come on Up is how it doesn't create any sense of destination: songs breeze along without significant variations of intensity or dynamics; melodies tend to not end on the root note, which contributes to a sense of verses cycling endlessly, with no resolution; and everything fades at the end, like a wistful memory. There's not even any strong sense of personality: though Brian Culbertson is all over each track, there's little that brands his playing, in the sense that four bars are all you need to recognize any major jazz soloist. This, too, isn't surprising, since the point of this music isn't to draw attention to the star or, for that matter, to anything in particular, but rather to lay out a kind of tranquil, anonymous urban reverie. This being the mission, it has to be said that Come on Up qualifies as a success.

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