Over the preceding 15 years, the veteran keyboardist Brian Simpson worked with some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz (Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Larry Carlton, Gerald Albright) and even did a tour with Janet Jackson. His second solo album (and first in a decade) clearly shows that he's absorbed the best pop, R&B/funk, and jazz instincts of everyone he's worked with - and should quickly catapult him to the forefront of current smooth jazz keyboard icons, alongside Joe McBride and Brian Culbertson. From the get-go, he's in the playful commercial pocket, the exuberant, blues-tinged title track bouncing along with the help of Rendezvous Music co-founder Dave Koz (whom Simpson has also toured with for ten years). This kind of spirited optimism abounds on radio-ready tracks like "Saturday Cool" and "And the Story Goes," but Simpson's background with real jazz players affords him a deeper artistry as well. Moodier, more sparsely arranged ballads like "Twilight" and "Waiting" provide a winning balance to the crowd-pleasing funk, giving guitarists Allen Hinds and labelmate Marc Antoine outlets for their gentler, more atmospheric sides. Putting most of the lighter fare up front, Simpson can then engage in a sweet, graceful samba ("I Remember When," lushly enhanced by Everette Harp's sax) and two traditional-minded numbers featuring acoustic bass - the contemplative "Blues for Scott" (featuring Tony Moore's subtle brushes) and the raucous, happy bebop-flavored jam "Au Contraire." The album's title phrase may be slightly overused in American pop culture, but in this case, it's the best way to describe Simpson's latest attempt to shed the sideman shackles and emerge as an artist in his own right.
All Music Guide
Brian Simpson, mostly known as keyboardist and musical director for Dave Koz, couldn't have come up with a more perfect name for his new CD. It's All Good was released on July 26th and is Brian's debut release on the Rendezvous Music label. With guest appearances by Michael Lington, Marc Antoine, and Dave Koz, it's a Rendezvous family affair that is sure to please most everyone.
The CD opens with the very retro, mod-type title tune, "It's All Good." This track features Brian in an all-out give-and-take with Dave Koz on sax. It's no wonder that this was the first single released. It's a very cool tune. "Here With You" is a terrific keyboard piece. It has a great combination of a slower, very moving piano melody and then an upbeat, groovy mid-section. "Saturday Cool" is very funky and has a great trumpet to kick it off and continue delicately throughout the track. This is definitely a head-boppin' song.
Turning to a quieter, almost retrospective tune, Brian has created "Twilight." Again a trumpet, this time muted, adds to the feel, and a gentle guitar compliments the mood. The beat-driven "And The Story Goes" is led by both Brian's keys and a terrific sax sound. The sax really adds a different groove to the song. "Waiting" is very serene. A mellow, Latinesque guitar leads you into a completely romantic, peaceful keyboard track. It's a very pure sounding creation. "I Remember When" is another great keyboard/sax combination. This track seems to tell a story and gives a kind of old club feel with a great sax solo. Definitely a favorite of this reviewer.
A very fun track is "It Could Happen." It's just a happy tune with Brian's lively keyboard leading you all the way through. The melody is upbeat and infectious. "Blues for Scott" is a tune that definitely takes you back to an earlier time in music. Great drum work, mellow piano, and a smoky feel. The CD ends with "Au Contraire." This is also another upbeat tune, reminiscent of the trios found playing in late night jazz clubs. Amazing keyboard work.
This CD will no longer allow Brian to hide behind other musicians. He has proven to be a solid writer and performer. His creativity is showcased on this CD. A must-have musical experience because certainly It's All Good.
- Bonnie Schendell