The cast of characters here includes Marc Antoine, Dave Koz and former Trippin-N-Rhythm fixture in Nate Harasim. Shanachie is an Independent label that has managed to survive and squeak by with a level of predictability and mediocrity that has been uninspired to be kind. Brian Simpson is simply a step up in weight class. Simpson is a technical wizard ripe with soul and an innate sense of lyrical flow that is reminiscent of a modern day Oscar Peterson or Ramsey Lewis.
Other special guests include the great Jonathan Butler and rising star Nicholas Cole who turn in stellar performance on the opening track "Wherever You Go". The title track features a new shooter for contemporary saxophone in Elan Trotman and Gerald Albright highlights one of the finest tunes on Just What You Need in D'Groove where he lays down the righteous groove that is synonymous with one of the better contemporary players working today. Marc Antoine adds plenty of flavor to "In The Rain" while Nate Harasim continues to prove he is a formidable force when it comes to songwriting on "Soul Embrace" which was co-written with Simpson. The cover of "The Girl From Ipanema" could be fraught with lyrical landmines but the potential pitfalls of a pre-easy listening tune are avoided with a stellar arrangement that puts the paddles to a classic Jobim tune and gives the bright and breezy Brazilian vibe a shot of adrenalin that allows Simpson to take ownership of this classic if just for a brief moment in time.
While admittedly not a fan of the homogenized sound that seems to be associated with the Shanachie label, Brian Simpson has assembled some of the best established talent and hottest rising stars to offer up a release that is as varied in texture as it is lyrical flow. Brian Simpson is the real deal for contemporary instrumental music and would seem to be following the recipe for success which includes inviting similar talent that shares the same musical vision with stellar results. Contemporary jazz has the unfair stereotype of being a bit on the "one note" side but Simpson is a master at manipulating sound with color and a vibrant energy to reflect his own personal artistic statement. In terms of criticism, keep moving because there is none here.
Tracks: Wherever You Go; Just What You Need; Emerald City; Soul Embrace; A Love Like This; The Girl From Ipanema; D'Groove; In The Rain; Castaway; You Gotta Be.
Personnel: Brian Simpson: piano, keyboards; Jonathan Butler: lead guitar; Nicholas Cole; keyboards and programming; Darrell Crooks: guitar; Alex Al: bass; Brian Kilgore: percussion; Elan Trotman: tenor sax; Ron King: trumpet; Michael Broening: keyboards and programming; Yarone Levy: guitar, acoustic guitar; Nate Harasim: keyboards and programming; Dave Koz: tenor sax; Michael White: drums; Gerey Johnson: guitar; Marc Antoine: acoustic guitar; Oliver Wendell: keyboards; Jeff Robinson: vocals; Ray Fuller: guitar; Larry Kimpel: bass; Ronnie Gutierrez: percussion.