Harmonica virtuoso Grégoire Maret to perform with his quartet at VJC

BRATTLEBORO — The Vermont Jazz Center presents a concert led by Grégoire Maret, respected by audiences and fellow A-list musicians as one of the world's greatest jazz chromatic harmonica players.

The event is Saturday, Jan. 19, at 8 p.m. The Vermont Jazz Center is at 72 Cotton Mill Hill.

Maret is found on recordings by such luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Cassandra Wilson, David Sanborn, Carlos “Patato” Valdes, Charlie Hunter, George Benson, Jacky Terrasson, Marcus Miller, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Lionel Loueke.

Maret's band, with which he will perform here, includes his longstanding collaborator/pianist Federico Gonzalez Peña, bassist Ben Williams (winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk Competition) and drummer Clarence Penn.

In 2005, Maret worked with Pat Metheny, recording the Grammy Award winning album, “The Way Up.” Of the collaboration, Metheny said: “Gregoire has the special communicative spirit that is rare and absolutely essential to jazz itself, and yet within that spectrum he is able to find a timeless quality that speaks to any kind of listener and attracts just about every kind of musician to his playing.”

Living the sound

Maret's music is distinct from traditional jazz, but its roots are steeped in the lineage, as Maret grew up performing blues and older jazz styles. His exposure was first nurtured by his father, a professional jazz musician, and many other mentors, including harmonica master Toots Thielemans, who took Maret under his wing when he was 17 years old. He also holds a degree in jazz studies from the New School.

Though Maret's music is influenced by the various rhythms and songs he has heard on his journeys around the world, it is also affected by the open, expansive approach with which he views the world.

“The kind of musical situation I was invited to participate in with guys like Steve Coleman and Ravi Coltrane kind of forced me to find something personal, to explore things that nobody else has tried on the harmonica,” he said. “Playing with them required that I investigate and incorporate different kinds of metrics, and get into real angular phrasing.”

In a recent published interview, Maret said that his concept of creating music is also directly related to singing, and this is why he often invites vocalists such as Cassandra Wilson to join him on his recorded work. He said that he hears the harmonica as “very close to the human voice,” so that “when I write I hear a melody that is written for vocalists; it makes a lot of sense for me to then interpret the melody on stage as if I were a singer.”

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