Woodwind master Matt DeMerritt (MD) has appeared on 75 albums in his 25 years as a sideman. Now he finally steps forward with his own, Fool’s Journey. Yes, it’s primarily a jazz album but he taps into a few other genres that he’s played in during his wide spanning career. As the semi-medieval cover art suggests, the album was inspired by the mythic archetype of the Fool, a symbol which 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 all of 2019 composing and selecting music for the album and went into the studio to record in January 2020. He tapped his deep reservoir of A-list musician friends to help him realize his vision: 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), trumpeter Jamelle Adisa, guitarist Josh Lopez, Brazillian guitar sensation Fabiano Nascimento, percussionists Davey Chegwidden (De La Soul, Game of Thrones Live) and Satnam Ramgotra (Hans Zimmer), and the fantastic vocalist Suzy Williams who guests on DeMerritt’s original “Wellspring.”
These are all DeMerrit compositions save “A House Is Not a Home” (Bacharach/David), “Montreux” (Hermeto Pascoal), and “Earth” (Joe Henderson). DeMerrit brings a full arsenal to the session, leaving nothing to chance, playing tenor, alto, and baritone saxes, flute, vocals, chants, and agogo bells. The brief space age “Zero Intro” signifies a wild ride but instead we’re transported to the lovely chanting over a babbling brook in “Well Spring” as percussion percolates and Suzy Williams rides over it all with her lovely voice before MD blows a blistering solo as Barsh comps. It’s on the ballads though where he’s really strong, first on his own “Venice lullaby,” then his “Loner’s Waltz” where he plays a variety of reeds including flute as Barsh plays in rather stately fashion this time, with a seemingly familiar melody befitting a film score. Again, MD’s tenor solo is confident and emotive as it is his richly toned take on “A House Is Not a Home,” evoking those ballads from Coltrane circa 1958.
The joyous spirt of “Elixir” has MD dancing around the rhythms and digging deep into an invigorating conversation with trumpeter Adisa. “Montreux,” features a great Brazilian guitarist Fabiano Nascimento is flowing, gentle piece while Henderson’s “Earth” may be edgiest cut on the album, imbued by Josh Lopez’s electric guitar effects and Ramgotra’s tablas. Then we have the “Zero Outro,” bathing us in other worldly sonics.
It is indeed entitled “Fool’s Journey” but wise folks and serious listeners would be well advised to take this enriching, enjoyable, and varied trip.