Brian Simpson - Above The Clouds (Rendezvous Music)

late night rendezvousBrian Simpson’s success with his Rendezvous Music debut It’s All Good became one of smooth jazz’s great breakthrough stories in 2005, but he was already a familiar face to thousands of fans that knew him as the guy running the show for all of Dave Koz’s summer and Christmas tours since the late 90s. Anyone fortunate enough to experience some of the big smooth jazz cruises these last few years (including Dave Koz And Friends At Sea and The Smooth Jazz Cruise) also heard the versatile keyboardist in his role as musical director. In the Summer of 2006, Simpson was also part of the successful 30-date Rendezvous All-Star Tour with his labelmates Wayman Tisdale, Jonathan Butler and Kirk Whalum. 

The title of It’s All Good proved instantly and joyfully prophetic, as the album’s irresistible title track hit #1 on the Radio & Records Smooth Jazz Airplay chart and remained in the Top 5 for four months; his follow-up single “Saturday Cool” went Top 15.  Focusing once again on compelling acoustic piano melodies, bright jazz improvisations and spirited funk grooves, Simpson keeps the extraordinary momentum hopping--and, true to the moniker he chose for the album, soaring--with Above The Clouds. You can’t beat these bright, optimistic album titles!

Even while Simpson was establishing himself in the early 90s as a hit R&B songwriter and touring musician for such R&B stars as Teena Marie, Janet Jackson and Rachelle Ferrell, he was jamming at night in local L.A. clubs with the city’s top jazz and soul musicians. The sessions for the new disc brought out some of the best from his hefty Rolodex: guitarists Tony Maiden, Darrell Crooks and Ray Fuller; bassists Alex Al, Smitty Smith, Larry Kimpel and Melvin Davis; drummer Michael White and percussionist Lenny Castro. Saxophonist and frequent Rendezvous Entertainment producer Darren Rahn joins with his trumpeter/flugelhornist brother Jason Rahn to create the fiery horn section on the vibrant and thumping jam “From The Hip”; the track also features guitarist Chuck Loeb’s cool, crisp electricity. 

In addition to Loeb, Simpson’s who’s who contemporary jazz superstar guest list includes Koz, Tisdale, Whalum, bassist Brian Bromberg, and legendary keyboardist George Duke. The late, great saxophonist Michael Brecker, who passed away in January, 2007, also contributed a tour de force performance on the hard driving yet emotional straight ahead jazz flavored closing track “That’s Right.”

Simpson fans that had a blast grooving along to “It’s All Good” will vibe instantly with the playful melody and easy rolling funk rhythms of “What Cha Gonna Do?” the first single from Above The Clouds. The irrepressible “Juicy,” featuring a rich, dazzling piano/sax interplay between Simpson and Whalum—in the spirit of Les McCann and Eddie Harris--keeps the party going with its mix of contemporary grooves and 60s soul-jazz flavors. After “From The Hip,” Simpson seduces us with his sensuous and romantic side on the sweet retro-flavored “Let’s Get Close,” “One More Time” (featuring the sweet muted trumpet of Ron King) and the wistful, frolicsome “The Last Kiss.”

On Simpson’s very first solo album, the now hard to find 1995 date Closer Still, he recorded a song for his oldest daughter “April.” It’s All Good featured “Blues For Scott,” a dedication to his son, and the keyboardist keeps the tradition alive with the magical and passionate “Fiona’s Song,” a lovely ballad for his 11-year-old daughter featuring solos by Koz and Tisdale before all three stars come together and harmonize. The tropical flavored “Bali” features the tender acoustic guitar charms of Ramon Stagnaro, while the buoyant title track finds Simpson duetting beautifully with George Duke’s unique vibes sounds; Duke also has a lush mini-moog solo. Before the rousing closer “That’s Right,” Simpson strips down for the thoughtful and emotional solo piano piece “Memories Of You.”

Simpson, who was on the road this past summer as “ringleader” of Dave Koz’s At The Movies tour, just did some solo gigs in September, including some dates in Japan with Eric Benet; in November, he resumes his duties as M.D. for the Koz Cruise, and in January, Simpson will play that same role on The Smooth Jazz Cruise. If you can’t catch him in person, check out Above The Clouds. And if you’re flying somewhere to see him, listen to it on your iPod. As he says himself, “it’s great flying music!”



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- Jonathan Widran