Sullivan Fortner in Berlin

Pianist Sullivan Fortner wrapped up his European tour last night at Berlin’s cozy Zig Zag club. Playing two sets before a highly attentive sold-out crowd, he mastered the piano in a lot of different ways. There was the more or less classic piano style which he probably took over from his mentor Barry Harris and which he conveyed in his opening Jelly Roll Morton number or in the standard “It Might As Well Be Spring”. His rhythmic and harmonic approach on tunes such as Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” or the Rodgers/Hart classic “You Took Advantage Of Me” was simply amazing, with the former number played in a slightly slower tempo than the original which actually worked out amazingly well.

Sullivan Fortner Zig Zag
Sullivan Fortner on Thursday night at Zig Zag in Berlin.

He really got me on the slower numbers. The Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn staple “The Star-Crossed Lovers” was one of the highlights of the show, with Sullivan interpolating Ellington’s “Single Petal Of A Rose” elegantly, almost ensconced in this beautiful piece. He also showed his prowess on the equally sensitive “We’ll Be Together Again” which he put across in a conversational, somewhat unobtrusive way, but always prominently highlighting the lyrics of the song. A very good value was the choice of his repertoire, culminating in a luminous version of “After The Love Has Gone”, the Earth, Wind & Fire classic where he showcased his uncompromising curiosity and wit and soul condensed in this sole number.

Sullivan plays at Cité de la Musique in Paris on April 20th. You might also want to check out our review of his 2015 album “Aria”.

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