Gregoire Maret's first album under his own name is both more and less than a Music lover following the harmonicist's career might expect. After years of collaborating with the likes of guitarists Pat Metheny and Charlie Hunter, and vocalist Cassandra Wilson, Maret (mostly) wisely but ambitiously places his instrument in a variety of settings that highlight various aspects of his playing.
The sum effect of hearing his eponymous debut is to appreciate how much Maret has brought to the music of others. "Lucilla's Dream" recalls Maret's collaboration with Metheny on The Way Up (Nonesuch, 2005), and not just so obviously with the inclusion of wordless vocals; the performance builds through a series of carefully wrought crescendos and concludes emphatically with Clarence Penn's drum break. On a leisurely stroll through Metheny's co-composition with pianist Lyle Mays, "Travels," Maret takes the time to explore its melodic nuances with exquisite patience.
Maret's distinctive presence as a musician also comes forth clearly on his rendition of Stevie Wonder's "The Secret Life of Plants," written by the one-time Motown wunderkind when he'd long since left his own harmonica behind for synthesizers and a variety of other keyboards. As he does throughout the CD, Maret brings a vivid tone to his playing in the straightforward arrangement, no small achievement given that his harmonica, by its very nature, puts forth a light breezy air.
"Crepuscule Suite" is one of a pair of extended pieces here, and its body offers the opportunity for Maret to vigorously improvise with the other participants, including bassist James Genus and keyboardist Federico Pena. The other is "Children's Suite," one of the three Maret originals, and it highlights the harmonicist's playing in a series of delicious contrasts with strings as well as acoustic piano. Ultimately, this becomes the gateway to the slow unfolding of the album's track sequencing that conjures up a dream-like quality.
For all the indisputably impeccable musicianship and production, however, Maret's album sounds as if he was too anxious to present his definitive artistic statement in one fell swoop. The track featuring mentor Cassandra Wilson is the most representative of that labored approach: the sole cut featuring a traditional vocal, her voice is as arresting as Maret's playing but is, in the end, simply too obvious a tribute/homage to the artist with whom Maret has collaborated.
More than compensating for that understandable lapse, though, are those memorable moments within the orchestrated "O Amor E O Meu Pais." Here, fellow harmonicist Toots Thielemans appears to interact fluently with Maret, and the gusto in the pair's playing is unmistakable. The sound of their instruments and their interplay is stirring, but deceptively so, as is the case through most of the tracks on Gregoire Maret.
Lucilla's Dream; The Secret Life Of Plants; The Man I Love; Travels; Crepuscule Suite: 5:37
PM (Intro);Crepuscule Suite: Crepuscule; Crepuscule Suite: 4:28 AM Outro; Manha Du Sol;
Prayer; Lembra De Mim; Children's Suite: The Womb; Children's Suite: Children's Song;
Children's Suite: Outro; O Amor E O Meu Pais; Ponta De Areia (M. Nascimento).
Grégoire Maret: harmonica, vocals; Federico G Pena: piano, taicho harp, percussion,
vocals; James Genus: electric bass, vocals, acoustic bass; Clarence Penn: drums, vocals;
Bashiri Johnson and Mino Cinelu: percussion; Brandon Ross: soprano acoustic guitar, 6-
and-12 string acoustic guitar; Jean-Christophe Maillard: acoustic guitar, taicho harp;
Jeff "Tain" Watts: drums; Alfredo Mojica: percussion; Cassandra Wilson: vocals;
Stephanie Decailet: violin; Johannes Rose: viola; Fabrice Loyal: cello; Marcus Miller:
fretless bass; Janelle Gill, Adia Gill, Clyde Gill, Micai Gill: vocals; Toots Thielemans:
harmonica; Robert Kubiszyn: acoustic bass; Krzystol Herzdin: string arrangement;
Gretchen Parlato: voice. Soumas Heritage School of Music Ensemble; Sinfonia Viva
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