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Brian Culbertson Cuts It Up at The Carolina Theatre

Brian Culbertson brought his 20th anniversary tour to The Carolina Theatre in Durham on Nov. 21st

Brian Culbertson brought his 20th anniversary tour to The Carolina Theatre on Nov. 21st

Every once in a while, there’s a Friday night in Durham that reminds us of how funky and jazzy this town is. When The Carolina Theatre welcomed Brian Culbertson and his bandmates on Friday, Nov. 21st, the town bopped and snapped and jumped up to dance. And we were reminded that this is Durham, home of the funky and unusual.

Blond and blue-eyed, this jazz musician knows how to change the definition of jazz. Though he fits into the smooth jazz genre, Brian Culbertson bops with the best of them, knows how to push out a piece of funk called “Cut the Cake,” and blows one of the best trombones in the business.

How to define him? Multitalented. Entertaining. Prolific keyboardist. A man who can rock the house with a twitch of his eyebrow. The man can play soul, funk, bop, rock, and even some of the best meditation music on the market. What?

Like most great jazz musicians, Culbertson plays more than one instrument and puts his mark on the hits others have made. He does it with a bit more edge and sass than others and often surprises with his razor-cut bright blond hair, augmented by his smooth-as-jazz ruby-red velvet jacket.

Skinny and as hyper as Mick Jagger (in jazz form), Culbertson appears too young to have a 20-year career in the industry already under his belt, but as he states during his commentary, his first album was recorded and produced in his apartment in Chicago in 1994.

Since that debut album, entitled “Long Night Out,” Culbertson has played with many jazz greats, including Lee Ritenour, Rick Braun, Chuck Loeb, and Russ Freeman. And just recently, Culbertson revisited that first album to produce a 20th anniversary retake of that first album entitled, appropriately, “Another Long Night Out.”

One of the fan favorites that Brian Culbertson shared with Durham’s enthusiastic audience was “Cut the Cake,” originally played by the Average White Band in the 1970s and reimagined by most funk bands. Culbertson’s version is one that gets people out of their seats and into the music, and Culbertson doesn’t stop with that. He moves straight into “Come to Me” from his second album, “Modern Life,” and then introduces his band.

Brian Culbertson’s backup musicians include keyboards player Eddie Miller, drummer Chris Miskel, bassist Rodney Jones, lead guitarist and vocalist Adam Hawley, saxophonist and vocalist Marqueal Jordan, and trumpeter Michael Stever. Together, they create a seamless transition into one of Culbertson’s earliest compositions, “Fullerton Avenue,” a song based on a street where he used to live. Funky, jazzy, starting on keyboards with an echo by the lead guitar, the song is jazzy with sharp edges, blue-eyes jazzy soul. Culbertson comes in on a hard refrain to literally tinkle the keyboards, then returns to pound a few bars of head-bouncing funk. A nice mix — and one that The Carolina Theatre audience adores.

Brian Culbertson played The Carolina Theatre of Durham last Friday night

Brian Culbertson played The Carolina Theatre of Durham last Friday night

Culbertson tells the audience he began creating music, writing his own, at the tender age of 12, so it’s no surprise that he’s very comfortable with his music and his band. Though he has been in the business long enough to remember recording on cassette tapes, his music is still cutting-edge and relevant today. One of his best known is “Beautiful Liar,” which he wrote at age 17. It’s a lovely song, opening with a simple refrain to move into a gorgeous melody. The tune employs a high-end keyboard and explores an upper deep register that is dramatic. It combines jazz instruments with a synthesizer that leads right into a strong funk, and it evokes emotions that are deep and complex.

Sometimes, the performance seems more like a jam than an organized concert; but that’s the pleasure of seeing Brian Culbertson perform. His bandmates offer an amazing drum solo that leads back to the horns: trumpet, trombone (Culbertson) and sax. And Marqueal Jordan not only offers backup on sax and bongos, but also throws his voice in on several songs like “A Little Love.” Each of the band members is a virtuoso in himself, but also quite capable of lending his own style to create an interesting whole.

Midway through the concert, Culbertson stops to talk about the fourth annual Napa Valley Jazz Getaway, which he will host on June 10-14, 2015. It is a very special four-day event starring Boney James, Al Jarreau, Mindi Abair, Chaka Khan, and many others. He speaks with fondness of the event that celebrates funk, R&B and smooth jazz.

Many moments during the evening delighted, but it’s not often that you see a musician play his instrument backwards. Yes, I said backwards. And Brian Culbertson did it very well this past Friday night in Durham. As he does everything else.

BRIAN CULBERTSON (The Carolina Theatre, Nov. 21 in Fletcher Hall in Durham, NC).

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Brian Culbertson (Decatur, IL-born jazz, R&B, Soul, and Funk musician): (official website), (Facebook page), (Twitter page), and (Wikipedia).



Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click To read more of her writings, click

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