Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. When I reviewed Brian Simpson’s breakthrough CD It’s All Good I described it as one of the few genuinely ‘complete’ albums of 2005. The title cut and its follow up ‘Saturday Cool’ produced two massive radio hits and fast-tracked him into the forefront of public awareness. In fact for Simpson, who is in his tenth year as musical director for jazz saxophonist Dave Koz, It’s All Good proved to be a tremendous validation of everything he had worked toward for so long. With his brand new release, Above The Clouds, due to hit record stores across the USA on August 28 his consummate skills both as writer and performer are again on display for all to enjoy.
Already selected as the first single for radio play, the tight and catchy ‘What Cha Gonna Do?’ typifies what Simpson’s music is all about and this penchant he has for ‘in the pocket’ smooth jazz is further demonstrated by ‘One More Time’. It has a haunting quality that is breathtaking and which makes it a standout among many yet just as compelling is the feel good ‘Juicy’ where the piano – sax chemistry generated between Simpson and Kirk Whalum is nothing short of precious. Indeed one of the features of Above The Clouds is the quality of the collaborations that Simpson crafts with a veritable ‘who’s who’ of contemporary jazz luminaries. In addition to a unforgettable guitar solo from Chuck Loeb the infectious ‘From The Hip’ is bolstered by the luscious horn section of Darren and Jason Rahn while with the title track it's George Duke who provides the memorable vibe sounds and mini moog solo. This mid tempo smoker is evocative in the extreme and also conjuring up images of places far away is the delightful ‘Bali’. Simpson’s warm yet thoughtful keyboards mesh sensationally with picture perfect guitar from Ramon Stagnaro and he stays in reflective mode for ‘The Last Kiss’ where his jazzy intricate tones create music that is perfect to chill to.
Simpson’s staggering versatility stems in part from traveling the world with pop divas Teena Marie, Sheena Easton, and Janet Jackson as well as touring with George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, George Howard, Billy Cobham, Gerald Albright and of course Dave Koz. He uses all this and more to blend both classical and blues influences into the deconstructed piano solo ‘Memories Of You’. It serves as a gateway to the hard driving ‘That’s Right’ where Michael Brecker on sax (who sadly died in January of 2007) provides the straight ahead bludgeon for Simpson to counter with his rapier like contemporary keys.
Although Simpson’s outstanding 1995 solo debut Closer Still remains largely as a sumptuous piece of buried treasure it does include the song ‘April’ that he recorded for his oldest daughter. He followed that on It’s All Good by dedicating ‘Blues For Scott’ to his son. Now the tradition continues with ‘Fiona’s Song’. This lovely melodic ballad written for his 11-year-old daughter finds Simpson generously sharing the spotlight with the wonderful sax of Dave Koz and the ultra distinctive bass of Wayman Tisdale yet still making the tune entirely his own. It’s a contender for best track on the album but just edging it is ‘Let's Get Close’. Anchored by a killer bass line from Larry Kimpell and replete with a vibe that oozes sensuality this is mood music of the highest order.
The most important thing for Simpson has always been about connecting with people, especially in the live setting, through the music that he writes. Now with ‘Above The Clouds’ he is making a statement that after so many years behind the scenes Brian Simpson is, as a solo artist, here to stay.
For more go to www.bsimpsonmusic.comPosted by Denis Poole at August 2, 2007 2:55 PM