Brian Culbertson funks it up at Pizza Express, London 1 May 2014

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American smooth jazz multi-instrumentalist and composer, Brian Culbertson and band, featuring a stellar line-up of Culbertson on keyboard and trombone, Derek Nash on tenor saxophone, Otto Williams on bass, Mark Jaimes on guitar and Chris Miskel on drums, erupted onto the stage during the first night of their sold-out run in the intimate surroundings of Soho’s Pizza Express Jazz Club.

At the age of 20, Culbertson self-produced his debut album, Long Night Out. Twenty award-winning and chart-topping years of touring the world later, 2014 saw him complete his 14th album on his own BCM label ¬– a re-make of that initial offering entitled Another Long Night Out. During a performance of title track, ‘City Lights’, Nash shook a tambourine in double-time over a galactic guitar solo by Jaimes, and the joy the band exuded at playing together was infectious.

‘Always Remember’ from Culbertson’s 2008 album, Bringing Back The Funk contained a memorable melody carried through by intense interplay between trombone and saxophone, punctuated by the spot-on timing of Culbertson’s glissandic dives on keyboard, unison brass stabs and uplifting key changes.

Drummer Miskel threw out thunderous fills on the cymbals, driving the band with everything he had as the music built to an exciting screaming saxophone climax in ‘Beautiful Liar’, but the highpoint of this heart-ringing spectacular was during ‘Long Night Out’ when Culbertson leant into the audience and walked around his keyboard until he was playing otherworldly off-beat syncopated notes on it upside-down. He then laid his head down on the keys as if in full communion with his art.

Influenced by the pure sex and solidity of 1970s band Earth, Wind & Fire, the quintet created an open jazz-funk sound that faded in and out like molten lava; so smooth that Culbertson’s playing morphed into his slick body movements which elicited whoops from his adoring fans.

– Gemma Boyd