Many smooth jazz artists are leading double lives. On-stage, they conduct themselves like real improvisers; they stretch out, they blow, and they savor the joys of interacting with real musicians in real time. But their studio recordings are another matter. In the studio, they go out of their way to avoid the slightest hints of spontaneity and carefully avoid doing anything that might jeopardize their exposure on NAC/smooth jazz radio stations. Clearly, the play-for-radio approach prevails on this 2005 release, which has "commercial NAC radio" written all over it. Pianist/keyboardist Brian Culbertson (who also plays trumpet, trombone, and percussion) is by no means a bad musician; he definitely has chops, and he has the potential to provide a killer soul-jazz album in the tradition of Gene Harris and Joe Sample (two of his influences). But It's On Tonight, like much of Culbertson's work, favors a very innocuous, totally predictable blend of jazz, R&B, and pop. The material is pleasant background music -- nothing horrible, but far from an adequate reflection of Culbertson's skills as an improviser. Singer Patti Austin has a likable spot on the urban/adult contemporary item "Love Will Never Let You Down" (one of the few vocal offerings on a mostly instrumental CD), and trumpeter Chris Botti's appearance on "Secret Affair" gives that track a bit of Miles Davis-influenced mystery. Botti, for all his commercialism, has more integrity than most people in the smooth jazz/NAC field (which isn't saying much given how appallingly low the genre's standards have generally been since the '80s -- at least when it comes to studio recordings). It's On Tonight does have its moments, but Culbertson is capable of much more.
Alex Henderson, All Music Guide
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