Pianist Brian Simpson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Oliver are respected and prominent members of the US smooth jazz fraternity. Together and solo, they have Cvs to be proud of. Simpson has worked with people like Janet Jackson, Teena Marie, George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Boney James and Dave Koz while Oliver’s credits number collaborations with the Neville Brothers, Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Reid, Larry Carlton, Rick Braun, Acoustic Alchemy and Gato Barbieri, to name just a few. The pair first came together when Oliver worked with Simpson on his last two solo albums; the chemistry they achieved encouraged the pair to work on a whole album together and the 11 tracker that is ‘Unified’ is the result.
The album’s mission statement is “to allow music to heal and bring people together by allowing minds to wander along the path these songs take and perhaps listeners will have a brighter day, or connect with their deepest emotions.” Well that’s very much a personal thing and time will tell, but Lord knows we could do with some (plenty!) of coming together and healing right now….Presidential impeachment/Brexit/climate change/et al anyone?
What ‘Unified’ offers is a relaxing, easy-on-the-ear set of tunes with Simpson’s crystalline keys and Oliver’s Benson-esque guitar blending empathetically; classic smooth jazz if you would. So plenty of gentle groove-laden workouts (like the title cut) and some very pleasing balladic moments (like ‘Last Summer’ and ‘A Distant Love’). Catchiest cut is ‘Café Du Monde’ – a melodic appeal for unity while the all too short, acoustic closer, ‘And Then You Loved Me’ channels the best of Earl Klugh. No bad thing in this reviewer’s book!