Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole's Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that's good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. It might have slipped in almost unnoticed and unmentioned but It's All Good, the debut CD on Rendezvous from keyboard player Brian Simpson, is one of the best of 2005. With the title track on the top thirty chart of most played on smooth jazz radio people are beginning to ask who Brian Simpson really is yet this longtime studio musician, who until recently did not even have his own website, is no stranger to those who follow live smooth jazz. For the past 8 years Brian has been the musical director for jazz saxophonist Dave Koz, arranging and playing keys on Dave's year-round domestic and international tours. Fact is, if you listen to contemporary jazz, chances are, you've heard Brian Simpson.
A jazzman from an early age, Simpson grew up in Gurnee, Illinois, a small town north of Chicago and was playing the piano at the age of 10. Brian went on to study at Northern Illinois University where he majored in piano and starred in the school's big band, an ensemble that won numerous awards and allowed him the chance to perform all over the world.
In 1985 he moved to Los Angeles and, immersing himself in the local jazz scene, soon found himself jamming in the after-hours with the likes of future stars Everette Harp, Boney James, and Norman Brown. He quickly forged a reputation as a touring keyboardist and again got to travel the world, this time with pop divas Teena Marie, Sheena Easton, and Janet Jackson. In January 1991 he co-wrote the #1 Pop hit 'The First Time' by Surface that figured on both the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts.
Aside from this pop success Brian Simpson has always been a working jazz musician. As well as his work with Dave Koz he has toured with some of the best including George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, George Howard, Billy Cobham, and Gerald Albright. Koz has been a major influence to Simpson both on and off the stage so its not surprising that the opening tune on the album, the title cut and the one selected for radio play features Dave Koz on sax. It's a mid tempo number that has the ubiquitous Tony Maiden on guitar and, overall, a deliciously retro feel.
In fact, top-notch collaborations abound right through the album. The romantic 'Waiting' is given a Latin flavor by the guitar of Marc Antoine yet here, as elsewhere, it's the stellar playing of Simpson that lives in the memory. The full sax sound of Everette Harp permeates 'I Remember When' and combines with a hallmark melody from Simpson to produce a simply delightful smooth jazz experience.
Brian Simpson has produced, arranged and recorded It's All Good and in addition has written or co-written nine of the ten tracks. He teams up with Koz's touring bass player Andre Berry for the composition 'It Could Happen' that also features Berry's regular sidekick Randy Jacobs on guitar. It's a piece of heavyweight commercial smooth jazz that must surly be lined up as the next cut for radio play.
With It's All Good Simpson brings to the listening public a jazz album in every sense of the term. On 'Blues For Scott' he compiles the classic jazz ensemble, a trio of piano, drums and acoustic bass, for a straight ahead (ish) jazz number that will please purists and others alike. The trio becomes a quartet by the addition of guitarist Perry Hughes on 'Au Contraire', an extremely boppy piece of timeless jazz.
Simpson's arrangement and production makes good use of Ron King's subtle flugel horn on 'Here With You', a tune that drips will late night smooth jazz atmosphere and King is also in evidence, this time on trumpet, with 'Twighlight' where Simpson takes a simple melody and proceeds to weave a sensuous vibe around it. The track is further enhanced by understated but killer guitar from Allen Hinds.
'Saturday Cool' is smooth jazz piano of the highest order with standout playing from Simpson and a hook that you will not be able to forget. Best track on the album is arguably 'And So The Story Goes'. A combination of a perky beat, nice sax from Michael Lington and Simpson's melodic piano with a funky edge makes this one really special.
It's All Good has enough in it to delight jazz lovers of all persuasions yet it achieves something else besides. With his consummate all round skills Simpson has been able to create, from a standing start, what will certainly mature to become his own unique sound. The lush velvety quality of every track, the subtle yet significant use of both trumpet and flugel horn and what is quite simply awesome production deserves to set Brian Simpson apart from the rest and elevate him to true smooth jazz superstardom.
For more on Brian Simpson check out his brand new website at www.bsimpsonmusic.com