Brian Simpson, South Beach CD Review
By: Andrew Reeves
August 31, 2010
Versatility is a musician’s most prized asset. The ability to meet the demands of an ever changing audience is not only essential, it is often required. Jazz is a universal – albeit fickle – language. Like any genre, the success of die-hard old school favorites such as Paul Desmond’s Take Five is exceedingly difficult to surpass. Audiences, replete with used car salesmen and the upper echelon of corporate society possess an unpredictable palate for music. The younger crowds of the late 1990s and early 2000s seem more adept to dance infused hip-hop than nights spent by the water soaking up sounds from the likes of Brian Culbertson and Spyro Gyra. Older generations recall smoke filled jazz clubs when Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald were in their prime. They feel jazz has lost its way; longing for the good ole days when the music told a story. There was a magic in the melody that grabbed hold of you, and didn’t let go even after the music stopped.
The legends of a not-too-distant past left some large shoes to fill. Fortunately, many gifted individuals have risen to the challenge, picking up where the greats left off and transforming the melody into something truly unique. The listener is left to form his own interpretation of the message behind the music. Memories are interwoven into the fabric of each song. The listener is left with something that will remain steadfast for life. Those who choose to recognize the inimitable power of music understand that its creation cannot be approached lightly, or with haphazard attention.
Artists past and present have managed to leave their mark on the music world. One such performer embodies both the innate talent and infectious passion that will afford him an undisputed place in the cannon of musical genius. Brian Simpson, a native of Gurnee, Illinois, and a student of music from the age of five, is an ideal example of talent, passion and skill. His body of work spans more than a decade, ranging from musical director to such icons as Janet Jackson and Dave Koz, to his own studio albums. His versatility and know-how give him the much deserved reputation of a “Consummate Musician” (Dave Koz, Smooth Jazz Daily, 2010). Brian possesses the uncanny ability to understand the inner workings of his music and portray a lasting message to his listeners. There could be no more convincing evidence than Brian’s upcoming album, South Beach, dropping August 31, 2010; his virgin record on Shanachie Entertainment. Due to his roots as a musical director and studio musician, it is little surprise that Simpson relied the legendary talent of such giants as George Benson, Euge Groove, Peter White and George Duke; proof that greatness is indeed contagious.
Each track on South Beach is a deliciously surprising treat. First up is the title track inspired by the beaches Simpson visited over the course of his career. “In the past year,” Brian says,” I’ve been to Hawaii, Bali, Indonesia, and several beaches in Florida.” (JazzHQ, 2010) There is a sense of intrigue flowing through the up-tempo grove, and an almost unapologetically fun rhythm indicative of a style uniquely his own. The intrinsic flare with which he approached the keyboard is evident in this unforgettable collection. To contrast its upbeat start, hits such as “Our Love and “Never Without You” are memorable examples of the amazing journey the listener embarks upon. There is an unveiling in every note; a ripping away of boundaries and preconceptions. The music does indeed tell a story.
Fueled by his early childhood interest and alacrity for music, Simpson studied at Northern Illinois University, earning a BA in music. Despite the fact that many contemporary musicians are self taught, having little or no formal musical training, Simpson is appreciative of the broad insight his education afforded him. “. . . going to a big school exposed me to a wide variety of musical styles. . . “ Brian explains.” “I’m definitely grateful for my suffering through music history, for now I find it fascinating!” (Jazzuality.com, 2008). A background saturated in various schools of thought produced a deep well of inspiration from which Simpson repeatedly draws. Unencumbered by the need to prove himself, Simpson eases us into the record with a tune that is unmistakably fun to listen to. Speaking of his true nature as a versatile musician, South Beach has something for everyone. From love ballads to foot tapping pop-infused hits, this album will indefinitely hold positions on TOP lists much like Simpson’s previous work.
Along with his recording album success, Simpson is a traveling man, having toured with Teena Marie and Sheena Easton, among others. He is widely known as a “working musician” attaining notoriety outside the studio with such credits as the annual Smooth Jazz Cruise, once hosted by the late Wayman Tisdale. Though some may consider him a side-liner, having devoted much of the past decade to filing supporting roles for other artists, he has never abandoned the flare and professionalism that endear him to listeners, dubbing him a true master pianist in his own right.
South Beach appeals to the kind of upbeat, lively crowd that loves to get the party jumping and keep it that way. While a selection of tunes are ideal for slow grooving, the record – in its entirety - is an ode to popping a few bottles of champagne and leaving your troubles behind. While some artists excel at creating good music, Brian Simpson masters the art of transporting the listener to another place entirely. He waves every step of the journey from the moment the first note is played.
It can be said then, that great musicianship is more than a perfect execution of good music. It is more than the application of rehearsed technique, and the development of innate skill. True perfection is realized in an artist’s ability to craft perfect moments with his instrument, giving the music an indelible place in the heart. Despite the prejudices of personal preference, South Beach succeeds – hands down.
Veteran smooth jazz aficionados know Brian Simpson when they hear him. The uninitiated however, can expect nothing less than an artist who puts his all into every note. “While working on South Beach in the studio,” Simpson recalls, “I often stepped back to a corner of the room and closed my eyes, as if listening for the first time, to see if the music compelled an emotion. I truly hope the listener can feel the love and care that all of the musicians contributed to the recording. (The Urban Music Scene, 2010)
Thanks Brian. You’ve done it again!
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