Taking the lead on harmonica is tricky. The instrument is prone to a chirpiness that doesn’t typically sustain for a whole album. However in the right hands (and with the right lungs), it can be more than a special featured player. Grégoire Maret has often been that special featured player in assorted works, but here on his latest album on Sunnyside, Wanted, his second in front of things, it’s clear he should lead more often.
Maret gets by with a little help from his friends here. There’s a song with Take 6’s Mark Kibble, with Dianne Reeves, with Chris Potter, with Luciana Sousa. These assorted guests shine on the album but function as much as an accompanist as anything. These compositions make room for everyone in almost lockstep ways. It can get smooth, but lively. The title track with Kibble’s scatting makes for a bouncy march, in fact, the similar pattern Luciana Sousa takes on “Groove” entirely fits its name; the takes on “Blue in Green” and “Footprints” are fine additions to the canon. There’s a functional sensibility through the Terri Lyne Carrington-produced album that has become signature of her work, an R&B practicality in sound pleasing to many an ear, edges sanded down, palatable but with a punch. This kind of practicality is the perfect sort of rudder for Maret.
This may in fact be the best means to take an instrument that isn’t typically in the lead and frame it as such to shine. In a pure jazz setting, the harmonica could in fact be too chirpy, but playing to its tonal strengths in compositions and arrangements sets the proper stage for Maret to be the brilliant musician he always has been. It would almost be insulting to say this could veer into the territory of “smooth jazz” but if that is the case, this would exhibit the finest of that possible categorization. The melding of the jazz and R&B sensibilities, making something soulful with backbone while still being pleasing to the ear, is what the genre used to be known for before the dark side of pleasantness took over the the branding and the ideology. If this is smooth, this is smooth done well, if one had to explain what this was. However, amongst the other ways one would definitely want to describe Wanted would be an album one would want to have chirping in one’s ears for many a repeat listen. It’s the bright side of smooth and pleasant, the side that shines out front.
Grégoire Maret – producer, chromatic harmonica & background vocals
Gerald Clayton – piano & Fender Rhodes
Jon Cowherd – piano (4 & 5)
Shedrick Mitchell – B3 organ (4)
Bobby Sparks – keyboards
Federico G. Peña – keyboards (8)
Gil Goldstein – Fender Rhodes (10)
James Genus – upright & electric bass
Ricardo Vogt – acoustic guitar
Marvin Sewell – electric guitar (1, 3 & 7)
Kevin Breit – electric guitar & electric mandolin (5 & 10)
Mino Cinelu – percussion
Kofo (The Wonderman) – talking drum (9)
Desmond Scaife Jr. – background vocals (4)
Terri Lyne Carrington – producer, drums & vocals
Eriko Sato – violin
Louise Schulman – viola
Dave Eggar – cello
Roger Rosenberg – bass clarinet
Elizabeth Mann – alto flute
Wanted, the sophomore album from harmonica player Grégorie Maret, is out now on Sunnyside.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.