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Gregoire Maret: Wanted

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Given all the first-rate musicians here, Wanted is a major disappointment. Grégoire Maret hit with a splash a decade ago, because of his talent but also because of his vehicle. He plays the chromatic harmonica, an instrument rare in jazz, whose haunting sonorities make a direct claim on the human heart.

Maret has been a dynamic sideman for people like Pat Metheny and Cassandra Wilson, but his two albums as a leader (his first, eponymous release came in 2012) have been undermined by misguided eclecticism and pop-jazz compromises. Wanted employs a core quartet of pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist James Genus and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington (who gets some of the blame as co-producer). But approximately two dozen others make cameo appearances. Albums recorded at different times in many different places, with dubbed-in vocals and a revolving door of guests, often come out sounding miscellaneous. Wanted suffers from an additional problem: the mix. Many fine singers here (Dianne Reeves, Jimmy Scott, Luciana Souza, Ivan Lins) are submerged in it, barely intelligible. Strong players like Clayton, Chris Potter, Marvin Sewell and Kevin Breit are not clearly discriminated. They are secondary to the album’s ongoing sonic soup, which variously contains ooh-ing background vocals, strings, woodwinds, twittering electric keyboards and monotonously throbbing gentle grooves.

The actual jazz tracks are best. An odd, interesting “Blue in Green” has Maret and Potter in harmonica/bass clarinet unisons, octaves apart. “Footprints” gives Maret an opportunity to stretch out, albeit over fixed funk beats. His solos always provide some degree of sensory and emotional provocation, but he mostly chooses to sweeten and simplify and stay tethered within the pulsations of the dominant ensemble. Wanted could serve as background music, or perhaps a film score. Unfortunately the background music is soporific and the movie is a sentimental romantic comedy.

Originally Published