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Sometimes you have to accept something for what it is. Keyboardist Brian Simpson's debut for Shanachie , South Beach, sounds like a thesis submitted to the College of Smooth Jazz. It hits all the tropes of the genre: plenty of tinkling keyboard melodies, funky bass n' drums riffs, sweet saxophone seasonings, and vanilla background vocals. That may seem like a criticism, but it's not; it is a recognition of what may have been on Simpson's checklist, and how successfully he scratches each off as the album proceeds.
Simpson plays pleasant, if innocuous, keyboards throughout South Beach, which is a perfect title for this warm and breezy album. Simpson's years as a session player, and as musical director for smooth jazz staple Dave Koz, provides him with both a familiarity with the genre and a lot of friends on his speed dial. Though Koz is missing, sax stylings are present throughout, provided by tenor saxophonist Euge Groove on "Lay It On Me," and Steve Alaniz on "All I Want Is You" and "Our Love."
Simpson really shines on "Old Friends," a pretty, piano-driven tune enlivened by George Duke's synthesizer solos. Duke, one of the icons of smooth jazz, makes a perfect mentor, and evidence of how closely Simpson has been paying attention abounds here.
This is essentially comfort food for the ears. It's simple, tasty and goes down easy, even if it never thrills the palate. Simpson isn't trying to chart a new course for smooth jazz as much as he's riding its wave; understanding that going makes South Beach as an enjoyable, if not especially memorable, way to spend 44 minutes.
Simpson's goal here is to deliver the grooves, and on that score he succeeds completely. South Beach sounds pretty good, caressing the ears, even if it doesn't leave a lasting impression on the mind.
Track Listing: South Beach; Can't Tell You Why; Lay It On Me; Never Without You (Shawndra's Song); Paradise Island; Old Friends; All I Want Is You; Our Love; Summer's End; Moonlit Ocean.
Personnel: Brian Simpson: piano & keyboards; Tony Moore: drums, drum programming; Michael White: drums (2, 3, 6-9); Oscar Sexton: drums (5); Alex Al: bass (1, 3-5, 7, 8); Smitty Smith: bass (2); Larry Kimpel: bass: (5); Ian Martin: acoustic bass (6, 9, 10); Agape Jerry: guitar (1, 3, 7); Darrell Crooks: guitar (2, 4-6, 10); Peter White: acoustic guitar (4); Yarone Levy: acoustic guitar (4, 8); Brian Kilgore: percussion (1, 4-6, 8-10); Lenny Castro: percussion (2, 3, 7); Ron King: flugelhorn (2), trumpet (9, 10); Euge Grove: tenor sax (3); Steve Alaniz: tenor sax (4, 7, 8); George Duke: synthesizer (6); Brenda Kay Pierce: vocals (5).
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.