Simon Moullier (vib), Luca Alemanno (b), Jongkuk Kim (d)
Bar code: 8427328436618
In his music, Simon Moullier makes an enticing proposition: what if the language of horn player —from Coltrane to Bird to Clifford Brown— could be transmuted for the vibraphone?
“If I could, I think I would have chosen a horn,” he has said. “I chose the vibraphone because I was a percussionist, and it was a more immediate way for me to get to what I was hearing.”
Moullier began developing this rapprochement when he picked up the vibraphone as a teenager. It’s on full display in his previous album, 2023’s Isla, which features pianist Lex Korten, bassist Alexander Claffy, and drummer Jongkuk Kim.
Inception —Moullier’s second trio record, following 2021’s Countdown— marks an extension of this language. Accompanied by bassist Luca Alemanno and returning drummer Jongkuk Kim, Moullier performs a gently rolling yet urgent program of standards. The material is drawn from some of the most masterful composers of the 20th century: Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Charles Mingus, Billy Strayhorn, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, and Michel Legrand.
The seed for this trio was sown in 2017, when Moullier attended the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance in Los Angeles. While performing with his quintet at the now defunct Blue Whale, Moullier decided to perform a blues as a three-piece. “We really dug the trio thing,” he says. “We went back and started developing that concept.” Inception kicks off with Silver’s “Ecaroh”—“Horace” backward. “His harmony is very dark,” Moullier says. “I’ve always liked that character of music.”
Following “Ecaroh” is Tyner’s “Inception,” the title track of the magnificent pianist's 1962 debut album —itself a trio date. “It was a great fit,” Moullier says. “Not only for the arrangement and the style, but the register of where the vibraphone sits with the bass.” “Desafinado” reflects Moullier’s profound appreciation for Brazilian music; at some point, he’s eyeing an album of all Brazilian music. As for Mingus’s “Peggy’s Blue Skylight,” Moullier imbued it with an Oscar Peterson-style arrangement.
As for “Lush Life,” “Doing a solo recording is a challenge I’ve always wanted to meet in a studio context,” he says; he had in mind the solo piano language of Bud Powell or Art Tatum. Moullier’s take on Davis’ blues “Pfrancing” recalls his trio’s genesis in the form. ‘Lost” is a tribute to its author, the late Shorter. “It’s such a deep world to dive into,” Moullier says. “There’s so much mystery and beauty, and so many stories.” “You Must Believe in Spring” reflects Moullier’s French roots. The album closes out with a lone Moullier original —“RC,” or “rhythm changes.”
“It was very challenging for me to record an uptempo in the studio,” Moullier says. But Inception is a series of “little challenges.” “We wanted to develop the trio sound and expand on the possibilities” he adds —whether that regards his instrument, arrangements, or tempo. But mainly, “We’re just having a lot of fun playing together!”
In that sense, Inception is a bridge to untold future realms. But on its own merits, it’s a realm worth lingering in.
"Here’s another outstanding album from a great vibraphonist, this one a young player who is still very active on the scene. Simon Moullier’s approach is based on the idea of importing the language of horn players to the vibes — though interestingly, for this standards album he’s chosen to replicate the piano-trio format (playing alongside bassist Luca Alemanno and drummer Jongkuk Kim). This means that what he’s really doing is filling the roles of both pianist and horn player, and he does so with stunning skill and fluency. While all the tunes here are standards, they’re not all equally familiar: for every “You Must Believe in Spring” and “Lush Life” there’s a “Peggy’s Blue Skylight” (Charles Mingus) or an “Ecaroh” (Horace Silver). And there’s actually one original composition, “RC,” but since the title stands for “Rhythm changes” it pretty much counts as a standard. This is brisk, exciting, virtuosic music that thrills without ever losing sight of fundamental musicality, and the album should find a home in any library’s jazz collection."
—Rick Anderson (December 4, 2023)