I first came in contact with the talented Lelah Simon when I was checking out the tremendous record from students of the Colorado Conservatory of the Arts. Her aptly-named Dominant 7 group made up for a lot of the swagger on Fourteen Channels and made me a true believer in this bassist’s talent.
So you can probably imagine my reaction when I happened upon Simon’s Third Week of April. Turns out she’s not only a helluva bassist but she’s also a helluva composer.
The record shows the artist’s range eloquently. It’s filled with organic compositions that run the gamut from traditional jazz to instrumental vibes of Elliott Smith and Neil Young tunes. Simon, a Colorado native, has made good on her full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music summer program and it shows all over Third Week of April.
Simon’s bass is accompanied by a host of gifted, natural performers. Paul Romaine (drums), Chris Mosley (guitar, vocals), Danny Mayer (tenor sax) and Carmen Sandim (keyboards) join her as a collective dedicated to the cause of the Groove.
The most striking thing about Third Week of April isn’t the spacious arrangements or the emerald musical landscape Simon’s compositions provide. It’s the funky, low, meaty Groove that she lays thick through almost every single cut.
The Groove comes out to play immediately on the album’s opening cut, “To Be Oblique.” Simon’s composition is brought out into the open with sweet surface and light keys. The track builds, instruments joining when it’s natural, and soars through a stack of lush solos and fat textures.
Simon’s record contains seven of her own compositions. “Others’ Eyes” is my favorite. It’s nearly sensual, coated with balmy atmosphere and beautiful lyricism. Julia Brochey makes her vocals count, letting each note absorb the openness and hesitation in the piece. The Groove is back, too, and Simon’s playing gives the song its backbone.
Simon’s instrumental takes on Neil Young’s “Tell Me Why” and Elliott Smith’s “Satellite” offer glimpses at the deeper artist. Her layering is astounding and her band’s boldness in taking these pieces on is evident in every note played.
Third Week of April sounds a lot like springtime. It’s a rainy sort of album, but it offers the sort of sustenance a good soaking from the heavens can bring. The pieces are rich, vibrant, colorful, warm. Simon’s playing is as it’s always been, at least from my too-brief experiences, and it envelops the listener in her passionate approach to her craft. And then there’s that damn Groove.