You've heard of the Ohio Players. Brian Culbertson is the Chicago Player - a keyboardist, trombonist, writer, arranger, producer and the most exciting live performing instrumentalist on the scene today. The proof is all over his milestone tenth project, Bringing Back The Funk, a historic and completely unprecedented revisiting to the land of the sho' nuff uncut `70s-style funk of ages. The "historic" declaration is not hype - for the first time ever, legendary old school funk masters from nearly every signature soul band and region of the country have united under Brian and executive producer Maurice White (founder of Earth Wind & Fire) to once again lay the righteous and real stuff on a deeply needy world. Dig this list:
William "Bootsy" Collins and Phelps "Catfish" Collins plus members of the Rubber Band and the Horny Horns (all out of Parliament-Funkadelic), Larry Graham (of Sly & The Family Stone and his own Graham Central Station), Larry Dunn and Sheldon Reynolds (of Earth Wind & Fire), Greg Adams (from Tower of Power), Tony Maiden and Bobby Watson (of Rufus), Michael Bland, Cora Dunham and Rhonda Smith (from Prince's bands), solo stars Ray Parker Jr., David T. Walker, Ronnie Laws, Gerald Albright, Tom Scott, Paul Jackson Jr., Perri and many more L.A. session greats. Add neo soul stars Ledisi and Musiq Soulchild, and the vibe becomes clear: Ain't nothin' but a party, baby bobba!
"I've wanted to record an album like this for many years," Culbertson states with pride - "one where I could really cut loose." Consisting of six slammin' original compositions and four classic `70s jams, Bringing Back The Funk turned what would have been a "mission: impossible" for others into a mission most righteously accomplished – with everyone recording together live in the studio….the way they used to get down! Upon completion of the project, Maurice White himself declared, "This record is gonna touch the souls of people because it's musicians playing together and sharing a feeling."
As is so colorfully revealed on the CD cover, Brian has been immersing himself in studies of The Funk from a very young age (that's an `Earth-Wind' LP he's grooving to with headphones - for direct connection to the soul). So this record is a dream come true. And since one of Brian's band members – singer/guitarist Sheldon Reynolds - is a latter day member of EWF, he was able to work with several of that group's alumni, including Sonny Emory, Morris Pleasure and the legendary piano and synthesizer master Larry Dunn - a major influence on Brian.
"I've lived five minutes from Larry for 10 years now but I never met him," Brian shares. "Larry and Maurice had not worked together in years, so that first day in the studio was a reunion. Larry came to my studio and we wrote the song 'The Groove.' You can hear elements of both our writing styles in it. It was like an out of body experience for me... Actually, the whole making of this album was like that. Everybody in the studio was a legend, and fans of each other! And what’s really cool is that we’ve all become really good friends.
The first single from Bringing Back The Funk is the feel-good wonder "Always Remember" (co-written by Sheldon Reynolds). Imagine a Ramsey Lewis melody morphing into a bridge reminiscent of Michael Jackson's "Rock with You" before cascading into the sunniest Earth Wind & Fire 'ba-de-ya' vocal chorus you could conjure - uniting people of all creeds under a heart-warming groove. That would be "Always Remember." "The title is a gentle reminder of how precious life is," Brian states. "Like the Average White Band said, 'Love your life' and enjoy it to the fullest." The CD’s closing number, "Let's Stay in Tonight" (co-written with Maurice), also revives this 'happy feeling'.
Fun was the directive when Brian matched wits with the whimsically philosophical wizard of P-Funk, Bootsy Collins for the opener "Funkin' Like My Father." "When he started coming at me with lyrics like 'Afrobootical, betabiological, symmetrically-induced,' I said, 'I'm staying out of this...do your thang!" Similarly, Brian co-wrote the gospel flavored "The House of Music" over several cell phone calls with electric bass pioneer Larry Graham (who he met at one of superstar Prince's all night jam sessions in Vegas). Then during a chance break in his schedule, Brian flew to Minneapolis to record the song live with Graham and a first rate band featuring saxophonist Ronnie Laws (giving the song the distinct feel of a Jazz Crusaders sermon).
Everybody brought their A-game to the table. Singer Ledisi (a returning guest who sang "Let's Get Started" on Brian's It's On Tonight CD) hand-picked the obscure Bill Withers gem "The World Keeps Going Around" - a rarity from his Live at Carnegie Hall album. Brian buoyed her awesome performance with the female rhythm section of bassist Rhonda Smith and drummer Cora Dunham. Trumpeter Greg Adams reprised his unforgettable horn arrangement for Tower of Power's "You Got to Funkifize" (featuring Twin Cities star Chance Howard on lead vocals, Perri (sisters Lori, Sharon, Darlene and Carolyn Perry) singing back-up and Rufus' Tony Maiden adding a searing guitar solo). And Chick Corea alumnus Eric Marienthal handled the horn arrangement of Kool & The Gang’s "Hollywood Swinging," slow cooked to an extra thick perfection to feature Musiq Soulchild singin', Gerald Albright blowin' and Brian spiking the brew with demonically distorted bass lines.
But nowhere does Brian give up the The Funk more than on his 6-minute version of Chicago soul legend Donny Hathaway's "Voices Inside (Everything is Everything)" for which he attacks the piano with a fervor unsurpassed on past recordings. His two choruses of solos are followed by a guitar turn from studio ace David T. Walker (whose classic licks include the opening four notes of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On”) that is a study in cool blues economy. Brian's band mate Eddie Miller - a ringer for Hathaway - sings the unifying refrain here. And elsewhere, Brian's road bassist Maurice Fitzgerald and drummer Chris Miskel rock the 2-minute interlude "Excuse me...what's your name?" with Detroit rhythm guitar king Ray Parker Jr. sitting in.
Inspired by his father, music educator Jim Culbertson, Brian Culbertson has been a fast and fierce study of music, gravitating to all styles of dynamic music as long as it was expertly played by artists ranging from Chicago, David Sanborn and Sting to The Brecker Brothers and Maynard Ferguson. Since his 1994 debut Long Night Out, Brian has been credited with bringing a youthful yet no less masterful energy to popular instrumental music with hit albums and singles. His sixth album Nice & Slow (2001) topped Billboard's Contemporary Jazz chart for six weeks straight. And its follow-up, Come on Up (2003) included his blazing cover of Earth Wind & Fire's "Serpentine Fire," impressing Maurice White enough to want to work with him.
Now Brian is raring to share the spirit of Bringing Back The Funk with his fans. "I'm taking an 11-piece band of rhythm and horns on the road," he states - "one of the biggest bands on the circuit today." Making a final reflection on the musical statement he's about to unleash on the planet, Brian concludes, "When you record anything, you have to live with it a long time. Ask any of the artists who played on this album. These legends ‘suited up’ and played their hearts out for me, and I am truly humbled."