Matt DeMerritt, Fool’s Journey Review
by Nolan DeBuke
Matt DeMerritt is a saxophonist, educator, and composer who is finally releasing his own album, Fool’s Journey, after twenty-five years as a sideman. The eleven tracks present a jazz album along with other influences from the different genres DeMerritt has played in over the years. The title was inspired by the Fool’s mythic archetype, a symbol that has appeared in art and literature throughout history. He goes on a journey of self-discovery, ending up right where he started, only wiser. DeMerritt spent a year composing and selecting music for the album and tapped his deep reservoir of A-list musician friends to go into the studio to record Fool’s Journey in January 2020. The players are Pianist Sam Barsh, who wrote and produced on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, one of many significant projects. Bassist Kaveh Rastagar of Kneebody and John Legend, drummers Gene Coye (Seal), Oliver Charles (Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals), Brock Avery (Wayne Kramer) and Scott Seiver (Tenacious D), guitarist Josh Lopez, MD for Nikka Costa, Princess, and Suzy Jones, Brazillian guitar sensation Fabiano Nascimento, percussionists Davey Chegwidden (De La Soul, Game of Thrones Live) and Satnam Ramgotra (Hans Zimmer), Jamelle Adisa, trumpet and the fantastic vocalist Suzy Williams, who guests on DeMerritt’s original “Wellspring.”
“Wellspring” is a DeMerritt original that has an upbeat world sound and beautiful singing by Suzy Williams. Davey Chegwidden adds his magic percussion to Gene Coye’s drumming as the horns play DeMerritt’s well-written melody. DeMerritt’s soloing has direction; he defines the harmonic progression and has a plethora of techniques and colors. This composition is a fun experience from beginning to end.
“Limbo” begins with Rastegar and Barsh playing a bass figure together. Coye’s drums enter, and the modern jazz feel is ready for the horns’ flowing modal melody. DeMerritt’s compositional style is one of development and strong melodic content. Adisa’s trumpet blends nicely with DeMerritt’s saxophones during the melody. DeMerritt’s modern jazz language is built on the tradition with elements of Coltrane, Shorter, and today’s sounds and harmonic techniques. The rhythm section is interactive and supports DeMerritt. This is a beautiful relaxed modern jazz selection.
There is so much to savor on Fool’s Journey that it is worth exploring each cut. DeMerritt has taken the best of his experiences and crafted a fine outing. His grasp of the jazz idiom underpins each melody, yet the freshness of his music experiences line each tune with character adding up to a sui generis delight.