In 2016, Simonsen flew from Los Angeles to Paris to work on Hugo Gélin’s film Demain Tout Commence. It was Simonsen’s first time recording in Paris, and the engineers’ evident love for vintage analogue gear and microphones proved crucial. Their work at Studios St Germain – owned by the film’s music supervisor, Raphaël Hamburger – proved so satisfying that all involved agreed Simonsen should return to record his oft-promised, oft-fantasised solo debut. Upon his return, however, the right piano proved elusive. Eventually, late one afternoon, Hamburger mysteriously bundled Simonsen into a borrowed car beside studio engineer Stan Neff.
“We drive out of Paris before sunset,” Simonsen remembers, “and we have no idea what we’re going to see. We come to a small village, and there’s a large barn there, with light spilling from inside. Our contact is standing out front with a glass of wine. We walk through the barn, which is full of pianos, some of the most wonderful I’ve ever played, then he brings us to another barn where there are even more. He leads us to a tall upright Bechstein. Once we played it, we knew it was the one. This is the unicorn! This is the magic piano!’”
Simonsen recorded Rêveries with what he calls “this magical beast of a piano” in four 2-3-week sessions over the course of a year, composing for brass, for strings and for choir. Inspired by his European surroundings, and emboldened by both his adventures with The Echo Society and his experiences with his Berlin friends, the album represents the culmination of a lifetime of making music, a dream made serene reality. There are nine dreams, in fact, but having given them the necessary time and space to arrive, Simonsen is now eager to share them. As he knows only too well, one’s mind is always eager to wander. The trick is just to let it.
That it’s entitled Rêveries is indicative of the record’s chimerical nature. ‘Argenté’s peace describes a silvery dusk, and ‘Aurore’ the sweet optimism of dawn, whose chorus is represented by the discreet use of a choir. ‘Ondes’ builds gently like the waves after which it’s named, its arrangement swelling and subsiding with a natural grace, while the exquisite ‘Coeur’ lingers over its heartfelt sentiments. There are, of course, echoes of others: one can identify respectful nods to, for instance, Claude Debussy and Erik Satie in ‘Envol’ and ‘Nuit Tombante’, while ‘Rêve’ offers a stillness A Winged Victory For The Sullen might crave. But even in ‘Spectre’'s restraint it’s clear Simonsen’s fashioned his own world, one every bit as enchanting as childhood’s raptures.