Brian Culbertson Makes Me Want To Hurl

A good friend of mine shared the following video of Brian Culbertson and his band playing a medley of jazz pieces, Back in the Day and So Good; my friend introduced the video as an example of "a band hitting on all cylinders."

I really like jazz, so despite never having heard of Brian Culbertson before, I watched with anticipation. However, I was sorely disappointed, and I responded that I totally loved the band, but I thought that Culbertson was overly tiresome. I really wished that Culbertson hadn't shown up to the gig, which is a really bad thing since it's his band and his gig... and I closed out my comment by stating that this was just my $.02 on the subject.

Someone else accused my observations of being overly jaded, to which I replied that my critique wasn't meant to be a jaded response; I sincerely watched the video 'cause I love jazz, but just as sincerely I felt robbed. The video starts out with Culbertson jumping around his band members like a Jack Russell Terrier, then Culbertson starts acting like he's calling the shots for a band that is obviously so well-rehearsed that they could play their parts in their sleep. (I haven't seen that level of self-aggrandizing pomposity since Yanni fell from grace.)

When Culbertson's piano melody finally comes in around 0:30, it's actually kind of a let-down; it's a poppy, pseudo-jazz hook, but Culbertson's faux attachment to his own amazingness during the first 2:30 of the video literally made me laugh out loud. When the band changes piece to "So Good," Culbertson's piano melody steps it up a notch; it's a much better hook, but Culbertson continues his useless, Yanni-style directing motions. I laughed out loud a second time when Culbertson pulled off his pouty stance and walked away from the piano around 4:15. (Seriously? What purpose did that serve?)

Around 4:25 we finally get to Culbertson's piano solo, which for an entire minute is nothing but smacking the black keys of the piano, which is an old trick used by less-talented pianists; play a song in Db and stick to the black keys and you'll be playing a Db pentatonic scale, which means that you'll never hit a wrong note or a sour note. Seriously - anyone could have played the first minute of his solo; regardless of whether they can actually play keyboards. At around 5:30 Culbertson finally wanders off the black keys, but that's only for a descending line during the last few seconds of his solo, after which he assumes his "menacing look" and struts over to the bass player, where he acts like he's getting in the bass player's face - for no @#$% discernible reason other than being a schmuck. (The bass player has some cool, funky chops, though.)

Around 6:35 I was surprised to see Culbertson switch to the trombone, and as one of my friends pointed out - Culbertson pulls off a pretty good solo for about a minute. However, by this point I was already so annoyed by the previous 6½ minutes of Culbertson's frenetic prancing about that it overshadowed his single-best moment to shine. After Culbertson's solo, the sax player does a great job of eclipsing Culbertson's preceding solo, but that doesn't stop Culbertson from raining on his parade by uselessly gesticulating in the sax player's face for a half-minute or so. After that useless escapade, Culbertson switches back to the trombone for the remainder of the song.

I made a comparison to Yanni earlier, and there are several reasons why Culbertson really reminds me of him; Yanni was one of the most self-absorbed SOBs on the planet, but he managed to surround himself with awesome musicians who made him look and sound great. Yanni's orchestra over-rehearsed everything; there was no improvisation when playing live - every 'solo' was purposefully-written and memorized, yet Yanni still felt the need to gesture like he was some sort of gifted conductor, even though his orchestra could have played with blindfolds. Or as one concert reviewer stated, "Yanni's orchestra was amazing; the only thing that could have made them better would have been for Yanni not to have shown up." In many ways, Culbertson seems like a Yanni reincarnation in a different genre; his band is amazingly-skilled, and they're incredibly tight, but Culbertson's arm-waving, prancing, faux-conducting, strutting, and posturing ruined it for me.

FYI - for an example of my Yanni comparison, watch the following video; you'll see a lot of the reasons why Culbertson's mannerisms reminded me of Yanni, except that Yanni doesn't play any solos to save himself from looking like a useless appendage.

By the way, the great irony of Yanni's flowery statements in the above video about how his musicians "bring great beauty, strength and color to his music" and how they "breathe life to his notes," is that the piece they play in the video isn't even Yanni's!!! It's actually a traditional American fiddle piece called The Old Grey Cat; one of Yanni's musicians introduced it to the orchestra, so Yanni slapped a different name on it, (World Dance), and started claiming that it was his. What a tool.

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