It’s strange how music and the visual arts can bounce off each other, creating new echoes. Vincent Van Gogh has been my favorite artist for quite some time, ever since hundreds of his works toured the US back in 1999. My two favorite paintings? Wheatfield with Crows and Starry Night. Over the last couple of weeks, however, Van Gogh’s position on the top of the mountain has been threatened by Guadalajara-based artist Sergio Bustamante. In the middle of this turmoil, I listened to Matt DeMerritt. He has an opinion on all this, dipped in a knowing humor.
Saxophone player Matt DeMerritt scores extra points integrating Starry Night onto the cover of his new album, Fool’s Journey, but the real genius of this album is just how appropriate that image is to the rich and melodic jazz featured in these tracks. These are dense and seductive original compositions, just as layered as millions of stars thrown across a clear night sky, music that might be played on a stage, outdoors, and shared with people you love.
This is the first album from Matt DeMerritt as a leader. He spent the previous 25 years as a sideman, according to the liner notes. Perhaps this is why Fool’s Journey has such a familiar and confident sound–DeMerritt’s been paying attention for a long time, and he knows how it’s done. With a large, rotating cast of friends who’ve played with such diverse performers as Seal, John Legend and Kendrick Lamar, DeMerritt has a huge canvas at his pleasure, but the first image he paints is always of his saxophone.
Matt DeMerritt, simply stated, is a romantic saxophonist–even though this album is ostensibly about the “mythic archetype of the Fool.” I’ve already mentioned seduction, but there’s more to it than that. DeMerritt’s sax is an anchor to all this lushness, and it never fails to provide clarity into the mix. He’s one of those rare musicians who speak, who employ strange new words into the notes. The romance is detailed through the sweetest of narrators, influenced by the magic of Van Gogh, and that’s what makes Fool’s Journey such a stand-out debut.