Above the Clouds, the latest offering from keyboard whiz Brian Simpson, finds the artist in his element, comfortably situated behind the ivories, banging out either some swanky honky-tonky flavored sassy number or a slow and funky R&B how-to-seduce-your-lover tutorial for the animal in all of us. The guy knows the buttons to push, or I should say the keys to press, literally. Always has. As musical director for smooth jazz cruises with Dave Koz as well as with Wayman Tisdale, he’s also shown how well coordinated and disciplined he is with the music of others.
This latest project is just chock full of smooth grooves that, while all Simpson’s, are easily identifiable as belonging to each and every one of us smooth jazzers. They move, they sway, they saunter, they grind, and they whisper those soul-stirring whispers. Most of all, they relate. There’s not a tune here that doesn’t find some jazzer saying, "Yes, that’s just how I feel right now!" There are countless such cuts that grab me that way. The opening track "What Cha Gonna Do?," track 4 "Let’s Get Close," track 5 "One More Time," track 6 "The Last Kiss," and track 7 " Fiona’s Song" immediately come to mind. Then, there’s the gang of pals that drop by to lend a helping hand to the project: George Duke, Dave Koz, Wayman Tisdale, and Kirk Whalum. Yeah, I know! "Mediocre" just vanishes from the dictionary with that mix of insurmountable talent.
It strikes me personally as curious that Simpson hails this as his "coming out" album of sorts. By that, I mean, he states that, "I wanted the music on Above the Clouds to make the statement that I’m a solo artist and that I’m here to stay." Hey, Brian, I think we all got that memo with the last effort, It’s All Good. That hot delivery more than made that bold announcement! For this latest effort, I just say, welcome back and keep up the groove!