Above the Clouds
The future of contemporary piano jazz is in good hands with Brian Simpson, who for more than a decade has helped prop up the career of Dave Koz as his music director and keysman. Above the Clouds follows Simpson’s It’s All Good from 2006, his first CD after the long layover with Koz. The big difference on Simpson’s latest is his culling of superstar talent, from pianists George Duke and bassists Brian Bromberg and Wayman Tisdale to guitarist Chuck Loeb and saxophonist Kirk Whalum. So while you might expect Above the Clouds to shoot for the moon as a musical smorgasbord, Simpson wisely centers on his strength as a lyrical player in the Joe Sample mold. The result is intelligent smooth-jazz with an emphasis on jazz. Simpson also channels an enduring hero on “Juicy,” giving us “The ‘In’ Crowd” for the 2000s that Ramsey Lewis would be proud of.
Whether angling for funky on “From the Hip,” romantic on “Let’s Get Close” and “Bali,” or classic mid-tempo smooth on “The Last Kiss,” Simpson never forgets the hook and catch of a memorable melody. It’s what has taken Simpson, after only two years in the spotlight as a solo artist, to near the top of the heap. Just to show you his chops, however, Simpson again reserves the last two slots on the CD for treats outside the box: “Memories of You” is a short solo-piano piece, while “That’s Right” is an invigorating jazz number featuring the burning sax of the late Michael Brecker.