Since 1997, Swiss-born Grammy-winning harmonica player and composer Grégoire Maret has been living and working in New York City. In addition to recording as a leader, Maret has been a first-call sideman to some of the most prominent names in modern music. Though jazz is his first love and primary pursuit, Maret's emotionally open, expressive chromatic style has led to studio and stage work with Prince, Pat Metheny, Meshell Ndegeocello, Terri Lynne Carrington, Cassandra Wilson, Elton John, and Sting. Maret's earliest recorded appearances Stateside began with two tunes on pianist Jack Terrasson's celebrated What It Is in 1999. In 2007, Maret and pianist Andy Milne released the co-billed outing Scenarios. Five years later, a self-titled debut was greeted by jazz critics with enthusiasm. 2016's Wanted showcased standards, but the album's highlights were Maret's originals. In 2019, Maret and harpist Edmar Castaneda issued the duo offering Harp vs. Harp. Maret was born in Switzerland in 1975 to a Swiss father and an American mother from Harlem, New York. Though he received proper musical training in school, he didn’t begin playing harmonica until he was 17 years old; he proved a prodigy. After graduating from high school, he attended the Superior Conservatory of Music in Geneva and worked with jazz and pop musicians. Between 1995 and 1999, he played in the Grégoire Maret-Leo Tardin Quartet in Europe and live with visiting jazzmen including Reggie Workman, Charles Tolliver, Max Roach, and Tito Puente, to name a few. That taste of the jazz life was the impetus for Maret emigrating to New York and the New School where he continued his studies of the harmonica and jazz composition in the jazz department. Though he sat in with a variety of players when he first arrived in New York, he got his first break as a session man for Jimmy Scott on 1998's Holding Back the Years. He remained with the singer's group for the next five years. In 1999, Jacky Terrasson hired him for What It Is, as did David Sanborn for Inside. After leaving Scott's group in 2001, Maret worked with Terrasson, drummer Leon Parker and Steve Coleman & the Five Elements. Though Maret worked with Jeff "Tain" Watts on the latter's Bar Talk in 2002, it was his appearance on Meshell Ndegeocello's Grammy-nominated Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape that brought his playing to the attention of pop musicians. Over the next five years, Maret's life became a whirlwind of recording and touring activities. He had become, almost overnight, one of the most sought-after instrumentalists on the scene. A few of the records he played on over the next half-decade -- all before making his own leader debut -- included Charlie Hunter's Right Now Move, George Benson's Irreplaceable, Metheny's The Way Up, Ndegeocello's debut jazz outing The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel, Marcus Miller's Silver Rain, Wilson's Thunderbird, Lionel Loueke's Virgin Forest, Mike Stern's Who Let the Cats Out, and Kurt Elling's Nightmoves. In 2007, he and pianist Andy Milne issued 2007's co-billed Scenarios for ObliqSound, which included the single "Moon River," featuring Gretchen Parlato on vocals. The album signaled to others outside his orbit that Maret was a possible successor to the chair Toots Thielemans held for the instrument for so many decades. Maret joined Ellis' Double Wide and Carrington's studio and road bands, and continued to work with Terrasson and Marcus Miller. Never in a hurry, but always busy, Maret toured the world, played gigs in Switzerland, and in 2012 signed to eOne to release his self-titled leader debut with guest spots by Thielemans, Parlato, Mino Cinelu, and others. It showcased Maret's interpretive abilities on tracks such as the standard "The Man I Love" and Stevie Wonder's "The Secret Life of Plants," but also showcased two original three-part suites. Though it didn’t sell particularly well, the set did garner more than its share of critical acclaim and further endeared the harmonicist to musicians. Maret got work with Dianne Reeves, Luciana Souza, Jonathan Blake, and many more over the next few years. In 2016, Maret worked on records by Reeves, Joanna Pascale, and Keiko Matsui. He also signed a one-off deal with Sunnyside Communication to release his next leader date, Wanted. Co-produced with Carrington, the set's players included her, Chris Potter, Jon Cowherd, James Genus, and vocalists Mark Kibble, Reeves, Souza, and Jimmy Scott. The following year, Maret and Randy Brecker were co-billed on Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge's Whispers on the Wind as featured soloists. At the beginning of 2019, Maret signed a multi-album deal with Germany's ACT label. His first outing was Harp vs. Harp, a co-led date with flashy Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda that included a guest spot by Bela Fleck. The harmonicist worked on the road with Metheny's quartet and played on the guitarist's acclaimed From This Place at the dawn of 2020. That same year, Maret played in a trio with pianist Romain Collin and guitarist Bill Frisell to release Americana on ACT. In addition to readings of Justin Vernon's "Re: Stacks," Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman," and Mark Knopfler's ("Brothers in Arms"), the set also included originals by all three men.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 24, 2020 | ACT Music
Swiss-born harmonica player and composer Grégoire Maret is based in New York, and a first-call sideman and collaborator for a wide range of musicians including Pat Metheny, Elton John, Meshell Ndegeocello, Terri Lynne Carrington, and Marcus Miller. French-born pianist Romain Collin attended Boston's Berklee College of Music and stayed. He leads his own trio and plays duo dates with Maret. Guitarist Bill Frisell needs no introduction; he is the aesthetic anchor here as well as the date's supreme colorist. Americana is a love letter from two immigrants to their adopted home. For Maret, that's doubly true: his mother is from Harlem. The program contains original compositions by all three men as well as three covers. The opener is a reading of Mark Knopfler's "Brothers in Arms," and delivers the set's initial surprise: It's played by Maret and Collin. The two ACT labelmates perform this paean of affirmation and commitment as quietly and gently as a lullaby. Frisell's "Small Town" reprises the roots aesthetic the guitarist showcased on albums such as Nashville (1997) and Disfarmer (2009). Initiated in Maret's high-middle register, its melody recalls the music of the Civil War, underscored by the guitarist's use of a banjo alongside his electric six-string. Collin's chord voicings add color, texture, and nuance, drawing the melody's emotion into the open. While the tune's structure is simple, the canny, sensitive interplay is not. Collin's "San Luis Obispo" is a straight-up country tune and he uses an upright piano. Frisell states the melody before winding it out with slippery, single-string statements and impressionistic chord voicings before handing it off to Maret, who takes over and interacts with Collin. The harmonicist's "Back Home" is initiated by Collin with a cascading single-note pattern embellished by fragmentary chords. Maret's lovely yet intensely lonesome chromaticism never plays extra notes; he allows them full voice as guest Clarence Penn's brushed snare adds emphasis. The reading of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" begins with an airy statement from Frisell before Maret claims the melody atop Collin's gospel-inflected chords. Frisell strums an acoustic underneath them and embellishes with his Telecaster. All three men alternate in offering small improvisations on the changes and lyric to quietly stunning effect. The set's longest number is a cover of Justin Vernon's "Re: Stacks"; its original version appeared on Bon Iver's stripped-to-the-bone debut For Emma, Forever Ago. Acoustic and electric guitars frame the margins of Collin's gentle yet interrogative piano pulse as Maret makes the lyric melody breathe with long doubled notes. Its movement is leisurely with ghostly reverbed piano hovering around Frisell's strummed changes and single-string lines. The sonic abstractions offered by Collin's Moog Taurus and pump organ continue with the harmonica as a nearly ambient interlude that bleeds over into their joint improvisation "Still." Americana is imbued with warmth and tenderness throughout. It's an endearing portrait of the intimate side of American life. These songs echo collective and individual memories as well as idiosyncratic sense impressions of those that are hoped for. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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