In terms of music, nothing quite divides people than the genre of smooth jazz. Since George Benson almost single-handily created the genre with the wildly successful Breezin’ album, soul music fans have become drawn to the genre whilst die-hard jazz aficionados refuse to be drawn into what they see as a subversion of the purest musical form. In my opinion, and as Brian Simpson’s new album demonstrates, it is the latter group of music lovers who are missing out.
Brian Simpson, whilst many will not know of his name – including me, until, at least I received an email from his PR team – but he has been the go to musical director and consultant for artists such as Janet Jackson, George Duke, and Teena Marie. In the business Simpson is an accomplished keyboardist and song-writer, and now is stepping out on his own with his latest solo release entitled Out of a Dream.
Now, certainly, not all smooth jazz is good; much of it is nothing more than bland, lift music. Yet for Simpson his music is not smooth jazz, it is contemporary jazz, and as his album demonstrates – smooth, contemporary, whatever-you-want-to-call-it jazz can be great.
For instance, take the opening track ‘One of a Kind’: a nice, relaxing, perfect-for-head-bobbing groove, driven by Simpson’s magnificent keys, and completed by Grace Jones’ delightful saxophone. Indeed Jones’ saxophone really makes the song, with her solo towards of the end of the track making it well worth checking out the album alone. The album continues in a similar smooth yet groovy manner with the title track ‘Out of a Dream’, which sees Simpson collaborate with another rising star by the name of Najee, who delivers a nice flute performance throughout.
Simpson also enlists the help of smooth jazz pioneer and saxophonist Dave Koz, whom Simpson was also musical director for, on ‘When I Say Your Name’, a right slab of classic smooth jazz track, perfectly suited to Koz’s trademark saxophone style and Simpson’s ever magnificent keys. The guests keep on coming throughout the rest of the album; Norman Brown, a guitarist schooled in the George Benson college of jazz guitar, joins Simpson on ‘Just One Wish’. The track is an absolute delight, with Brown’s playing complimenting Simpson’s keys well.
Perhaps the standout track of this new release is ‘Rio Sway’, a Latin-infused number featuring the lovely guest vocals of Maysa. She delivers her vocal beautifully, riding the groove set down by Simpson well. Indeed, of all the tracks on this nice new album, it is this track that is likely to gain most airplay on the smooth jazz stations.
Simpson’s latest release delivers consistently across the whole album, providing us with music perfect to both work productively to, or to unwind to. Those who sneer at the genre of smooth jazz, whilst right about the blandness of many releases, would be wrong to totally ignore this new great release from Brian Simpson.