"...she broadens and redefines any limits one might place on the harp."
Évélina Simon, harp; Yohann Simon electric guitar; Martí Lafind, drums; and Hugo Molka, bass. Self-released, 2020.
French harpist Évélina Simon is a musician difficult to classify, and that would seem exactly the point. Her latest two-CD release, Phoenix, takes the listener on a journey all the way from Celtic lullabies to world dance music to Reggae groove and back again, a genre I have yet to have heard so successfully mastered. Along with her superb team of collaborators—Yohann Simon electric guitar; Martí Lafind, drums; and Hugo Molka, bass—she broadens and redefines any limits one might place on the harp. Close mic placement combined with her richly husky voice, one that cracks ever so much, serve to deepen the longing, and the listening.
The set of original music is divided into two moods—fire and water—and begins with a flowing and chirping set of overtones called Ondine. Here Simon explains the intention in her artistry.
Let the melody of the words escape…
Don’t freeze an idea in a spoken sentence,
but release the voice’s melody
and open doors of possibilities.
In Wolfpack, a groove with heavy beats on one and three, the words are in English, giving a nod to wolves’ home territory of North America. They trip off the tongue like a rapper as the animals give chase, reminding us we as humans don’t have what it takes to survive in the forest. Simon’s slightly-behind-the-beat improv fits the mood just so.
Other standouts include a rethinking of the classic Black Is the Color, beginning with a dreamy, lullaby-like harp solo, each string fully resonating. With the addition of a gentle pulse from the band, the sentiment drives home: I love the ground where on he goes, I wish that day would soon come, When he and I can be as one. Less successful is the Black Is the Color remix by WildSpark, which doesn’t quite hit the mark when attempting to bring an epic quality to this simple song through sound effects and electric guitar.
In the second CD, the atmosphere of calm is restored with the introduction of natural sounds as well as delightful vocal overdubbing and the recorder. Where “fire” pushed and insisted, “water” seems to simply allow and invite. Gorgeously rendered is Appaloosa Dance, a solo that dares you to stay still while listening.
The theme introduced in the first CD is returned in a play on an idea, Lonely Wolf. The song is about being captured and desperately wanting freedom, and expresses the best. Simon’s own wild spirit as a performer on multiple harps, flutes, vocals, and shows as a composer. Just exactly how, I wonder, did she obtain those incredible self portraits with wolves in the CD jacket?
And as she points out, in spite of the fact that this year has not been a good one, we can hope to “not remember the negative” and instead focus on one of the exquisite offerings to rise from the ashes of 2020, this enchanting CD.