Sunday, May 27, 2012

On Eponymously Titled Debut, Grégoire Maret Spins Harmonica Lyricism

Grégoire Maret has emerged as new voice in modern jazz world specializing in the harmonica. He has developed an approach that has him enlisted by the likes of Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Cassandra Wilson, and Marcus Miller for their projects. He has also guested with the likes of George Benson, Jimmy Scott, John Ellis, Jacky Terrasson, Richard Bona, Sean Jones, Terri Lyne Carrington, Johnathan Blake, Kurt Elling, Robert Glasper, Lionel Loueke, and Jeff "Tain" Watts, Mike Stern along with some of pop music’s biggest names including Sting and Prince.

Raised in Switzerland, he went to the Conservatory in Geneva and then to pursue jazz studies, went to New York City’s New School. While After years as one of the most in-demand sidemen and guests in jazz (and beyond), Maret finally has made an eponymously titled debut recording for Entertainment One. On most of this he is backed by pianist Federico Gonzalez Peña (a longtime collaborator with Maret), along with bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn. Cassandra Wilson and Marcus Miller both make guest appearances and the final track is a duet with jazz harmonica legend Toots Thielemans. Included are originals by Maret along with compositions by Pat Metheny, Stevie Wonder and Brazilian composers Ivan Lins and Milton Nascimento. There are also two suites that he and Peña collaborated on.

Maret brings a dreamy, lyrical and melodic approach to the harmonica displaying his obvious technical command but more importantly his ability to develop intriguing and captivating musical statements starting with his Lucilla’s Dream, that opens this followed by his lovely interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life of Plants, on which the acoustic guitars of Brandon Ross and Jean-Christophe Maillard are prominent in the accompaniment. Cassandra Wilson and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts guest on the rendition of The Man I Love with a haunting vocal by Wilson and on which strings (arranged by Maret) are added.

Pat Metheny’s Travels displays how able Maret is able to develop a mood with his precise playing and his tones and Brandon Ross’ guitar serves as a counterpoint. One of the two suites here, Crepuscule Suite opens with Brazilian flavor and vocals before the second movement with Marcus Miller on fretless bass in a conversation with Maret and with Peña on piano with Watts on drums adding to the heat of Maret’s playing on the middle section.

Wordless vocals by members of Take 6 are heard on the ruminative Prayer with Peña adding some percussive accents in addition to his piano. Ivan Lin’s Lembra De Mim also again brings a Brazilian flavor to this charming interpretation. Children’s Suite is the other extended original contributed by Maret and Peña that is centered on Children’s Song, the middle section of the suite. Also delightful is the duet with Thielemans, O Amor E O Meu Pais which is also from the repertoire of the great Ivan Lins.

Maret’s playing is delightful and captivating. This is music that should have a wide appeal given the wonderful playing as well as the lyricism evident throughout this. Wonderfully recorded, Grégoire Maret’s self-titled debut should bring him well-deserved recognition.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for this release. Here he performs "The Man I Love."

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