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On his impressive sophomore album, French vibraphonist Simon Moullier and his trio dig into jazz classics and popular standards and reshape them for a new generation. In so doing, the Brooklyn-based Berklee alum takes his place among emerging vibes stars like Joel Ross and Sasha Berliner, who are bringing something genuinely new to the game.
Low on shimmer, Moullier favors muted textures and pinched harmonies. On “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” Charles Mingus’ lyrical tribute to Lester Young, he substitutes bluesy understatement for elegiac emotion. His midtempo, marimba-like treatment of Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You” embraces samba, and the trio passes the speed test with flying colors on Tadd Dameron's bebop flag-waver “Hot House.”
And then there’s John Coltrane’s title composition, the mother of all Rorschach tests for improvisers. Driven by drummer Jongkuk Kim’s thwacking strokes, Moullier plays it close to the vest, refracting the famous chord changes through repeated phrases and tight scampers. As if rendering a personal solution of Pi in answer to Coltrane’s mathematical challenge, Moullier's version runs a concise 3:33.
Throughout, this visceral trio dances in and around harmonic frameworks, lending the songs a special urgency. At times, bassist Luca Alemanno jumps out of the frame, as if giving into an expressive urge, and his deep, whomping tone provides unexpected heft to “Nature Boy.” Moullier is very much a work in progress, but with performances like this one under his belt, there’s little doubt he’ll be leaving his mark on contemporary jazz for some time to come. — Lloyd Sachs