Keyboardist and Dave Koz bandleader Brian Simpson is simply at the top of his game. Combine the best and brightest from Joe Sample, David Benoit, Gregg Karukas and Bobby Lyle and you get Simpson: sterling acoustic piano instrumentals, a leader in bright melodies and an overall expert in the pop-jazz genre.
LeBron James isn’t the only one who has landed in South Beach. The tropical setting certainly influences Simpson’s music, which is often simply swaying and cool, like a gentle breeze from the Atlantic. In fact, there are only two upbeat excursions here. One is the swinging, Ramsey Lewis-ish “South Beach,” the kind of song Simpson has had big hits with. The other is “Lay It on Me,” which features the burning saxophonist Euge Groove.
The rest is South Beach after dark—perfume and Mai Tais. There are bright ballads like “Can’t Tell You Why” and “Paradise Island,” the latter with the soft, cooing vocalese of Brenda Kay Pierce. “Never Without You” is fit for the loudspeakers in a shopping mall, but in a happy, unabashed way that works. Peter White is spotlighted, and he’s one of the best at setting a romantic mood with his nylon-string guitar. There is also “Old Friends,” the kind of song couples dance to with their eyes closed, feeling good after a few well drinks. Funk legend George Duke is featured with one of his synth solos, and it fits perfectly.