A longtime studio musician, musical director, and touring keyboardist to stars as diverse as Janet Jackson and Dave Koz, Brian Simpson’s breakthrough as a solo artist with his Rendezvous Entertainment debut It’s All Good was the genre’s major story of 2006. 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 new album, soaring - with Above The Clouds.
Inspired keyboardist, composer, prolific studio musician and producer Brian Simpson is a master of all he purveys. His eloquent approach to playing, sophisticated harmonics sense, bluesy overtones, R&B flavor and keen sense on how to craft a song that stands the test of time have made him the go-to man for many. Through the years Simpson has been revered for his unparalleled ability to compose unforgettable melodies and irresistible grooves. “I never approach two songs the same way,” confesses Simpson. “When someone hums your song, it’s the melody they are humming so as important as the groove is, the melody is still king.” Simpson’s soulful approach to the music has made him first call for many including Janet Jackson, Teena Marie, George Duke, Stanley Clarke and Dave Koz, for whom he has had the distinction of being musical director for close to two decades. A chart-topping musical chameleon who wrote the #1 R&B hit “The First Time” for Surface in the 1990s, Brian Simpson has a knack for churning out genre-bending timeless anthems. George Duke once said “What I love about Brian’s playing is his understanding that melody and groove are important.” Simpson’s approach is simple, “I’m following in the footsteps of those that laid the foundation of contemporary jazz music. The fusing of jazz and R&B is just what contemporary jazz is all about.”
Simpson’s latest masterwork is the perfect amalgamation of music that is close to his heart – Jazz, R&B, Funk and Soul. Out Of A Dream (Released February 17, 2015) is Simpson’s sixth album as a leader and third recording for Shanachie Entertainment. “When I first embarked on making this album, I was at a point where I felt I had to take my music to a different place,” explains Simpson who enlists nine different co-composers on the album that keep the sound ever-evolving and fresh. “By collaborating with other composers I was able to explore different styles of writing while still maintaining my own vibe.” Out Of A Dream unites Brian Simpson with an all-star cast including saxophonists Najee, Dave Koz and Grace Kelly, guitarists Marc Antoine and Norman Brown, singer Maysa and trumpeter Maurice Brown among others.
“Out Of A Dream opens with the spirited, exhilarating and soulful “One Of A Kind,” featuring the young and much talked about saxophonist and vocalist Grace Kelly. “I co-wrote the song with guitarist Nils and it was the perfect vehicle to showcase the virtuosity of Grace. I was enjoying what she was playing so much I just let her solo freely at the end of the song, and the result speaks for itself!” The hypnotic title track joins Simpson with label-mate Najee, who superbly compliments the pianist with this ethereal flute playing. Although the two have known each other for years, this song marks the first time the duo has ever recorded with one another. “I was so inspired by Najee’s beautiful flute cadenza at the beginning of the song, that I decided to name both the song and album Out Of A Dream. It just made me think of waking up from a dream…a ‘very’good dream!”
When you hear the composition “When I Say Your Name,” a seductive collaboration between Simpson and Dave Koz, you understand why the powerful two-some have managed to successfully collaborate with one another for decades. Their fluid, free-flowing and telepathic interplay makes for a high point on the album. “Dave came to my studio and within 30-minutes he had written the chorus melody and recorded it. When I asked him if he could come up with a song title, he said ‘When I Say Your Name!’ Simpson and Koz prove that when the chemistry is right not even the sky is the limit.
Out Of A Dream finds Brian Simpson traversing broad musical terrain. The ambient and ethereal “Sky Watcher,” co-written with electronic music producer Ryan Farish is the album’s first single. The Samba-esque “San Lorenzo,” which was inspired by the San Lorenzo beach in Spain was written on location. Simpson and his dear friend and guitarist Marc Antoine have worked together frequently over the past couple of years. Simpson states, “Marc’s style of acoustic guitar playing is without equal.” Simpson transports us from Spain to Brazil with a little help from his lovely label-mate Maysa. “Rio Sway” is a song that Simpson wrote with revered vocalist and composer Brenda Russell with Maysa in mind. Simpson adds, “We had a ball working together on this and Maysa took it to the next level with her beautiful performance. I’m convinced she just gets more and more amazing. While in the studio with her I got to see what a ‘pro’ she is and I truly understand why she got a Grammy nomination last year!”
Out Of A Dream also showcases the memorable ballad “Her Eyes,” co-written by pianist Jonathan Fritzen and “Just One Wish” composed solely by Simpson and featuring guitarist Norman Brown. Dedicated to the iconic and late pianist Joe Sample, “Just One Wish,” is the first time that Brown and Simpson can be heard on record together. “One of my major influences, the late Joe Sample, had a singing quality to his playing, and he continues to inspire me. The song ‘Just One Wish’ is heavily inspired by Joe. In fact, I was struggling with the melody until I asked myself, “what would Joe play?” At that point I literally put my hands on the piano and out came that melody you hear.” “Lets Get Away” is one of Brian Simpson’s favorite songs on the album and it was written with a long time musical partner Oliver Wendell. The album closes with the in-the pocket-swinger “Nightfall,” proving once again that Simpson can do it all. The song was co-written by trumpeter Maurice Brown. Simpson shares, “When I first met Maurice last year at the Java Jazz festival in Indonesia, I was inspired by his unique blend of traditional jazz and R&B. We created the song “Nightfall” together, which really hits the mark.”
Hailing from Gurnee, Illinois, Brian always knew music would play center stage in his life. “Our house was filled with music. My older brother and sister both played instruments, and my brother’s rock band rehearsed in our living room every weekend. I never really considered any other lifestyle,” shares the keyboardist. Simpson’s breakthrough as a solo artist began in 2005 with the #1 radio hit “It’s All Good.” The title track of It’s All Good proved instantly and joyfully prophetic, as it 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. In 2007 Simpson released Above the Clouds, which delivered the memorable radio hits “What Cha Gonna Do?” (Top 10) and “Juicy” (Top 15). After graduating from Northern Illinois University, Simpson relocated to Los Angeles where he quickly immersed himself in the local jazz scene. Late night jazz sessions found him playing alongside everyone from saxophonists Everette Harp and Boney James to guitarist Norman Brown. The free-spirited musician soon found himself taking a temporary leave of absence from the jazz scene, touring the world with pop divas Teena Marie, Sheena Easton and Janet Jackson. His foray into the pop world didn’t end there; in January 1991, he co-wrote the #1 Pop hit “The First Time” by Surface, which conquered both the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts. Placing his success in pop aside, Brian Simpson has always been a working jazz musician. He has toured with some of the greats of recent jazz history, including George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, George Howard, Billy Cobham, and Gerald Albright. Brian has been the musical director for jazz saxophonist Dave Koz for close to 20 years, and for close to a decade the Musical Director of the ambitious and highly popular “The Smooth Jazz Cruise.” In 2010 Simpson released South Beach whose title track snagged a #1 slot on the charts. Just What You Need followed in 2013 featuring the Antônio Carlos Jobim/ Vinicius de Moraes classic “The Girl From Ipanema” which hit #1 on the charts and “Emerald City,” a top 3 hit.
Once again Brian Simpson has delivered the goods and Out Of A Dream is sure to become a fan favorite. As for Simpson his wish is simple. “My hope is that the songs on Out Of A Dream evoke emotion in people, which is honestly the only thing I wish when people hear my music.”
Sources: Last.fm, Wikipedia
Brian Simpson in the news
|Songs by Brian Simpson|