Brian Culbertson


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One of smooth jazz's brightest young keyboardists seems to be caught in the same marketing trap as his contemporaries -- aiming to please radio programmers first, and waiting till very late in the running order of the disc to challenge himself -- and listeners who have many other new and similarly likeable keyboard releases to choose from. When he finally blows his lid on Secrets and goes for broke, it's a joyous affair, as the eight-minute closing track "At the Backroom" finds Brian Culbertson jamming hardcore blues/funk and bouncing off the inspirations of older cats like Jeff Golub (guitar) and Ricky Peterson (wicked on the Hammond B-3). The tune sounds like an outtake from Golub's more adventurous solo efforts. Surprises abound -- Culbertson seems to close the piece, then after a short bit of silence, comes back playing smokin' trombone, giving the whole affair an authentic New Orleans club flavor. On the eight previous tracks, Culbertson once again shows a mastery of cool groovin', easygoing melodies, and some tight ensemble action -- and yet beyond the bouncy opening cut "So Good" and the Paul Brown-produced soul-inflected "Backstreet," he's just cruising in the middle of the road with pals like Gerald Albright and Dwight Sills. As a balladeer, oddly he has never matched the compelling emotion of the home recorded "Beautiful Liar" from his 1994 debut. That song had an urgency, just as "At the Backroom" does. Much of Culbertson's middle ground between those peaks has found him a bit too complacent.

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