Best album of the year 2010? Thats a difficult call. There was so much music. But if we start with one of my favourites in the smooth jazz arena, it’s definitely Brian Simpson’s “South Beach” release.
I ordered this album as a collection balancer partly because I had nothing by Brian Simpson yet and partly because the cover looked so good with the palmtrees in the background. How more beachy USA feel can you get? It reminded me of the cover of Michael Franks’ ‘Barefoot on the Beach’, which I bought at a time I lived near the beach.
Whilst this is a perfectly good album to just put on and let it play over and over until you are smooth-jazzed out, there are a few excellent standout cuts on there. For those looking for complete innovation, stop reading now. This album will not shiver your timbers. But for those who don’t feel like that, these are the tracks to really enjoy:
Track 2 – Can’t tell you why
Call me crazy, but I like beginnings of songs. How do they start, slowly, fading in, hard, surprising etc. Well this track just eases in with a low bass note fading downward on the string, followed by some very smooth jazz chords before the ‘relax-on-my-deck-by-the-ocean-with-an-iced-drink’-beat sets in nicely. It features a nice synth bridge which is really not smooth enough for the song and that’s what makes it interesting, not to mention the great hook in the chorus.
Track 5 – Paradise Island
OK, I have a soft spot for doowah-girls. This track opens with some 3 or 4 doowah girls singing ‘aia, aia oh…. Oho…. Aia oh’. And how can you possibly resist that. The song just drags you in right from the start and I promise you will not let go until it eats you up and spits you out. It’s a slow, relaxed Sunday-walk-in-the-park composition combining electric guitar and acoustic piano. Kind of Brian Culbertson early on in his career when he was not making party tracks. Great climaxing in the solo by Brian who just goes on and on over the chords. Like I said, the doowah girls drag you in and the ivories do the rest.
Track 6 – Old Friends
I have an old album at home by Joe Sample, it’s called Carmel. On the front is a picture of Joe Sample perched by the seaside on what seems to be a stormy day. That album has that Carmel/Monterey feel that those who have been there love so much. Now I would put money on it that Brian Simpson has this album too and has taken inspiration from it. It could have been on there. It is full of Joe Samply-chords and even the soloing takes a page out of the ex Crusaders’ piano man’s mucical eloquence and lyricism.
Track 9 – Summer’s End
I used to play in a jazz duo on the UK south coast. We did some gigs at venues overlooking the ocean, people sitting in the sun, not a worry in the world, just enjoying the moment while we turned out the grooves. At the end of summer, when shadows elongate and the evenings bring on the chill, there is gratefulness and melancholy in the air, looking back at another great summer. Play this track in the middle of winter, close your eyes and you will be transported instantly to wherever you care to remember at the end of summer.
South Beach delivers something special for everyone, from the smooth jazz listener who classes this type of music as ‘elevator music’ to the hardcore LA Califusa smooth jazz collector.
It's a solid all-round investment for the collection and you will not be disappointed. In fact, if cds by Joe Sample, Greg Karukas, Jeff Lorber and Brian Culbertson are already in your collection, this album can do no wrong and will proudly measure up and occasionally excel.
All in all a great album which (after a few purchases in the smooth jazz arena which I really only played in elevators), is very refreshing and great musicianship. I am honoured to own it.
Thank you Mr. Simpson for raising the bar in the smooth jazz world.