I couldn’t let the holiday season go by without at least one Christmas CD review! But I had to find one that was fresh, fun, and a little funky. Who better to turn to than Brian Culbertson? But while Soulful Christmas is pretty much fun in a box, it is also somehow still reverent – a lot more than most.
Culbertson opens things up with a nicely orchestrated “Intro,” a nice fanfare to the album, and then immediately plunges into a fantastic gospel arrangement of “Joy To The World” complete with gospel choir, The Jason White Ensemble. This one features Culbertson on piano and trombone, and Eric Darius and Eric Marienthal on sax. Hey, if church was like this every Sunday you wouldn’t be able to find a seat.
Warren Hill and Nathan East join Brian on “Deck The Halls.” Brian does a very warm, gentle, retrospective arrangement on this duet with Warren Hill’s sax. “Jingle Bells” is a rockin’, foot-stompin’ good time. This jazzed-up, big band version features Brian Bromberg on bass, Brian on trombone, Marienthal on sax and Ricky Peterson on Hammond B3 organ. Culbertson slows things way down with this beautiful, reverent, piano-only rendition of “The First Noel.” Michael McDonald takes “All Through The Christmas Night,” written by Culbertson, as only he can.
It’s time to get up and have fun with “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” This one is classic “Culbertson live” aided and abetted by Jeff Lorber, Eric Marienthal, Jorge Evans, and Tony Maiden, along with a host of others.
One of the highlights of this album is “Angels We Have Heard On High,” a beautifully arranged and orchestrated rendition featuring Peter White on acoustic guitar and Culbertson on piano. Breathtaking. A classically trained singer in her own right, Michelle Culbertson offers her take on the beautiful, reflective “Some Children See Him,” accompanied only by Brian on piano. Another highlight is Culbertson’s very intriguing arrangement of “Little Drummer Boy.” Brian combines elements of traditional jazz, classical, and African percussion to make this a very unique take on an old favorite. Brian Bromberg is featured on the acoustic bass. Brian moves to a smooth jazz take on a contemporary holiday “classic,” “This Christmas.”
Brian closed the CD with a great, almost a capella version of “Silent Night” sung by Marc Nelson sparingly accompanied by Culbertson on piano.
We all like something a little new at Christmas. Music is no exception. It’s hard to take songs you’ve heard all your life and make thing fresh, but I think Culbertson did a good job of just that.
- Elizabeth Ware