CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

Simon Moullier: Spirit Song (Outside In)

Review of the debut album by the French vibraphonist and composer

Cover of Simon Moullier album Spirit Song
Cover of Simon Moullier album Spirit Song

There’s a new wave of vibraphonists making noise these days. Warren Wolf, the virtuoso who came first, has been followed by fresh thinkers like Joel Ross, Chris Dingman, and Sasha Berliner. Now we have Simon Moullier, originally of Nantes, France, now of Brooklyn. He has said, “When I am creating, I focus on … aura.” On Moullier’s debut album, Spirit Song, that focus is apparent.

He is a lyrical voice on vibes, but his priority is the collective, not individual moments. The core quartet here contains a pianist (either Simon Chivallon or Isaac Wilson), a bassist (Luca Alemanno), and a drummer (Jongkuk Kim). On five of the nine tracks, either Morgan Guerin or Dayna Stephens joins on tenor saxophone. Moullier also plays synths and a chromatic balafon. This album is very much an “aura”: tight, mannered arrangements are presented in an integrated wall of sound, with minimal discrimination among instruments.

The appeal of Moullier’s music is its gauzy melodicism. But the thick mix can be frustrating. Compelling players like Stephens and Guerin are recessed in the blend. There is little distinction between foreground and background. Moullier’s synths add additional clutter to an already crowded soundstage. His fondness for loops creates annoying repetitions.

Yet Moullier has something. Gene de Paul’s “I’ll Remember April” and “Kenyalang” (an original), relatively clean charts for quartet only, are ethereal and alluring. Moullier understands that the notes he strikes with his mallets can resonate sympathetically with the human heart. He knows that all melodies sound more poignant when played on a vibraphone. He lingers over these songs and seduces you into their intimacy. A brief solo feature, “Prophecy,” also works because the synth accompaniment is subtle.

“April” and “Kenyalang” create anticipation for Moullier’s next album.

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.