A Compelling, Translucent New Album and a Smalls Gig From Simon Moullier
Vibraphonist Simon Moullier burst on the New York jazz scene with an individualistic and sometimes breathtakingly articulate sound. He’s made a name for himself with his distinctive interpretations of standards but is now staking out fertile new terrain as a composer on his latest album Isla, streaming at Bandcamp. And he’s leading his quartet at Smalls on March 5, with sets at 7:30 and 9ish; cover is $25 at the door.
On the opening number, Empress of the Sea, bassist Alexander Claffy and drummer Jongkuk Kim lay down a lithe 12/8 groove beneath a distantly eerie modal vamp and similar harmonies between Moullier and pianist Lex Korten. The piano warms the atmosphere after the bandleader’s enigmatic solo, but the unease remains. It’s a strong opener.
The second cut is the title track, which could be vintage Bobby Hutcherson in an especially gritty but also slinky mood: the band really swing this hard as they move along. Kim’s hushed clave gives extra suppleness and mystery to You Go to My Head, Moullier’s tight clustering approach in contrast to Korten’s legato, with an electrifying vibraphone solo out.
The band reach for a more relaxed, syncopated shuffle rhythm in Enchantment, Korten’s loose-limbed solo at the center: Moullier’s incisive upper register riffs come across as guitar voicings, a cool touch. He builds the aptly titled Moon Mist around a spring-loaded, hypnotic vamp, Claffy stepping out for a stroll as Korten collects a dream nebula overhead which the bandleader then gives an extra jolt of voltage.
The band go back to early 60s Prestige Records terrain for This Dream, Kim loping along with a spring-loaded syncopation as Moullier riffs at high velocity over Korten’s steady insistence. Phoenix Eye is the album’s punchiest, most biting and allusively bluesy track, Korten scrambling, Moullier choosing his spots. They bring the record full circle with the simply titled Heart, a wary ballad: it’s the most allusively Lynchian and defiantly enigmatic track here. Moullier has really been on a creative roll lately: let’s hope that continues.