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Shorter, Esperanza Spalding Lead Montreal Jazz Festival

Gregoire Maret
Jazz harmonica player Gregoire Maret. The Switzerland native, who has performed as a sideman with various groups at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, will make his first appearance at the festival as a band leader on Saturday at the venue, L'Astral. Photographer: Ingrid Hertfelder via Bloomberg

Harmonica player Gregoire Maret impressed Andre Menard, co-creator of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, with the solos he took as a sideman.

“I saw Gregoire play with Pat Metheny’s group at the festival back in 2005,” said Menard, co-founder of the Montreal-based events producer L’Equipe Spectra Inc., by phone.

This year Maret will be one of the headliners with his quartet at Montreal’s L’Astral on Saturday night, a beneficiary of the festival’s role as a platform for both rising and established stars.

The 10-day event, which opens today, is one of the largest of its kind in the world, attracting more than 2.5 million spectators with more than 600 indoor and outdoor concerts.

This year’s headliners include singer-songwriter James Taylor, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias, and two standout bassist-vocalists Esperanza Spalding and Me’shell Ndegeocello.

Maret said he hopes to build a following for an instrument more associated with folk music than with jazz.

“The harmonica has some quality that makes it closer to the human voice than any other instrument,” said the New York-based Maret by phone. “The emotion and range is something you can explore on the harmonica.”

Maret, who released a self-titled CD in March, will perform in Montreal with pianist Federico Gonzalez Pena, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Clarence Penn.

Three Basses

One of his past musical partners, Marcus Miller, will also be at the festival. The Grammy Award-winning bassist and producer (Miles Davis, Luther Vandross) will join Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten as the all-star bass trio S-M-V.

“One guy takes the extreme lower range of the notes, one guy takes the top as a guitar would, and the other takes the middle range,” Miller said by phone. “This project shows exactly how far the electric bass has come. The electric bass can be the basis of a trio.”

Menard said he and festival co-founder Alain Simard look for talent worldwide, resulting in such finds as the Free Flamenco Trio, made up of pianist David Pena Dorantes of Spain, French-Catalonian bass player Renaud Garcia-Fons and Bulgarian flautist Theodosii Spassov; Grammy Award-nominated, California-raised soul-jazz singer Gregory Porter; and alto-sax player Pierrick Pedron from Brittany.

“I saw Pierrick play in a festival in France three years ago, and I said then that this guy has to play in America,” Menard said. “When I look at Gregory Porter, I ask who was the last, great young male jazz vocalist we’ve seen? Most of them are women. Gregory brings something new to the table.”

(Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars.

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