By Rakhee Bhatt | October 13, 2016 | People
Jazz and R&B artist Brian Culbertson tells us about his upcoming show at the Aliante, his new funk record, and what it was like jamming with Prince in Vegas.
Musician Brian Culbertson is bringing the funk sounds of the '70s back in a big way. After producing an astounding number of studio albums (15 to be exact), Culbertson takes his second foray into the get-up-and-dance genre with his latest album Funk!, which he is gearing up to perform at Vegas's Aliante Hotel + Casino + Spa this October 14 and 15 as part of his new tour.
Ahead of his Vegas concerts, we chat with Culbertson about his music process, why he wanted to pay tribute to Prince on his new record, and what showgoers can expect.
Congratulations on your new album, Funk! This is now your 15th record. What’s your process like and where do you find your inspiration?
Brian Culbertson: Typically I will first come up with a concept—like what is this album going to be—even before I write music. In the case of this latest one, I decided to make another funk record. With that in mind, I'll listen to a lot of music in that style prior to starting my writing process, just to kind of get it all in my head. I spent about three months listening to all kinds of funk from the '70s. This particular record, I wanted it to be more of a party kind of sound, so I decided to work with lots of different writers in the studio. Every record for me is a little bit different. If I’m doing a slow or romantic-type record, I’ll write that more on my own, just sit in the studio and maybe light candles (laughs). I want the atmosphere that I’m working in to feel like what the music is going to be.
Is this considered a follow up to your first funk album, Bringing Back the Funk?
BC: I would say so. I wanted the first one to be more Earth, Wind & Fire meets Tower of Power. This new one was way more gritty, even more funky, more like Parliament meets Prince. Definitely both funk records, but stylistically different within the funk genre. I just didn’t want to do a repeat. This was a project from start to finish. There’s a storyline and interlude that goes into the other songs, and funny bits here and there. I wanted it to feel almost like a '70s sitcom at the end, and so the music really fit that.
Going back to Prince, I heard you had an incredible jam session with him several years ago in Vegas. What was that experience like?
BC: It was when he had his 3121 residency in Vegas [at the Rio]. I knew some of the guys in his band and they said, “We always do an after-hours jam session. Why don’t you come by and hang out?” I ended up getting up on stage and jamming, and Prince came in. It was unreal. Most jam sessions are just kind of loose and not put together, because it’s a bunch of people that don’t really know each other. But this one was like a 4-5 hour concert unto itself. It was insane! I was really inspired, so much so the next morning I woke up with the idea to make Bringing Back the Funk. That was kind of the reason that I got into making funk records, and that first one was co-produced by the late Maurice White from Earth, Wind & Fire, hence the reason this new funk record is dedicated to both Maurice and Prince. Both were extremely instrumental in me going in this direction, so we do a tribute to both of them during this current funk show. We go back and forth between both of their catalogs, their biggest hits, and the crowd goes bananas. Just to have the connection to both of them is amazing.
What else can showgoers expect to hear and see at your Vegas performance?
BC: It’s definitely a nonstop party from the top of the show. I’m very visual. When you see the show it’s not just about musicians playing music. I wanted to be true to the bands back in the day. You go see Earth, Wind & Fire shows and they’re the whole package—they’re not just standing there playing music. I love this particular showroom at the Aliante. Not only is it a cool-looking place, they have a great sound system, video monitor set up, and an insane amount of extra lighting that we can tap into. It’s going to be one of the best looking and sounding shows because the venue is very state of the art. What's great about [the Aliante] not being on the Strip is that it caters more towards the local jazz fans. Hands down, Vegas is one of the best crowds out there. Every time we’re there, they give as much energy back to me as I try to give to them. It’s fun and exciting, and I think people come out saying that was an experience, not just a concert.
In addition to the original songs on your new album, you put in Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” and Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.” Why did you choose to cover those particular songs?
BC: I used to be with Universal Music for years, and while I was there they asked me to do a remix of Marvin Gaye’s song. They sent me the original multitrack of his vocals by itself, so [I did] a modern remix of that tune. We played it live for about a year and a half before going into the studio and cutting it with the band. "Play That Funky Music" happened because we were doing a show and for whatever reason the crowd that night was in super party mode. We had already done an encore and they didn’t want to leave. We didn’t have a song prepared, so [we did] “Play That Funky Music,” and the crowd was on fire. I thought, we should do this on the record. It’s a fun album.
October 14 & 15, 8 p.m. Aliante Hotel + Casino + Spa. 7300 Aliante Pkwy., 702-692-7777