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Sullivan Fortner, New Orleans Pianist, Debuts 'Aria' on impulse! Records [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt m.greenblatt@classicalite.com on Oct 28, 2015 08:04 PM EDT

New Orleans piano player Sullivan Fortner, 28, makes his major label debut, Aria, on one of the most legendary of jazz labels, impulse! Making his bones in Roy Hargrove's band, the spider-fingered multi-harmonic wizard of the 88s has sterling accompaniment in drummer Joe Dyson, Jr., bassist Aidan Carroll and saxophonist Tivon Pennicott. Fortner maintains he's only one-fourth of Aria though, as he's always been more comfortable in a band context, not as a leader. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

The opening original is the rather unique title track, as if minimalist composer Steve Reich wrote this on the plane home after vacationing in Havana. It's actually part of a six-movement suite, "Expansions: Suite in B for Jazz Quintet," commissioned by New York City's Jazz Gallery. Three other "Expansions" movements are given more air to breathe.  The Thelonious Monk-inspired "Parade," "Passepied" which uses French dance suites by Johann Sebastian Bach in a Baroque classical setting and the closing "Finale" where the sound of second-line drumming stems from his hometown. The fourth original, "Ballade," is for his mom.

He tackles Monk's harder-than-hard "I Mean You" flawlessly, adding his own feel to the ever-shifting rhythmic patterns that most pianists find so confounding to interpret. Jerome Kern's beautiful 1939 melody for "All The Things You Are" is done Cedar Walton style, no surprise since Fortner studied with Barry Harris who played with Walton. His flowery expansive interpretation of Duke Pearson's 1966 "You Know I Care" contains a nod to his former boss Hargrove. The 1934 chestnut, "For All We Know," is solo.

Still, the obvious highlight, the total surprise, the one track that has to make you smile, is a jazz statement on a song that children's television host Mr. Rogers used to sing to my kids every morning. There's finally a hip version of the ever-present "You Are Special." How cool is that?

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TagsSullivan Fortner, Impulse! Records, REVIEW, Roy Hargrove, New Orleans

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