Advertise with The Big Takeover
The Big Takeover Issue #94
MORE Recordings >>
Subscribe to The Big Takeover


Shop our Big Takeover store for back issues, t-shirts & CDs

Follow us on Instagram

Follow The Big Takeover

Sullivan Fortner - Solo Game/Micah Thomas - Reveal (Artwork)

18 December 2023

Jazz label Artwork Records has apparently been operating way under the radar, as I hadn’t heard of them until now. That’s especially surprising given their talent roster, including these two piano men.

Sullivan Fortner’s day job is tickling ivories for acclaimed singer Cecile McLorin Salvant, but Solo Game is his third solo album. Each disk concentrates on a certain aspect of his vision, with solo piano on the Solo half (naturally), and a more experimental bent on Game. Anyone who’s seen Fortner with Salvant won’t be surprised by Solo – his sly asides, obvious technical mastery, and deeply embedded melodicism immediately makes an audience wonder where they can get his leader records. Soaked in blues, bop, and stride piano styles, brilliant originals (“Congolese Children,” “Invitation”) and smart covers (Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”) make one salivate for the next one. Which, luckily for us, is on Disk 2. Adding electric keyboards, a myriad of percussion, and some wordless vocals to his arsenal, Fortner pushes his tunefulness into a parallel dimension, starting with the spacy delight of “It’s a Game.” There’s more whimsy on this disk, as Fortner sounds like he’s having a ball playing with his sounds, but he never forgets the tunes at the heart of his playing – never more so than on “Snakes and Ladders,” perhaps the double disk’s ultimate track. Game doesn’t hit as hard emotionally as Solo, but it’s an eye-opening exploration of Fortner’s talent.

Making a masterful splash a few years ago with his debut album Tide, Micah Thomas has appeared in these digital pages before. His third album Reveal features the same rhythm section (bassist Dean Torrey and drummer Kayvon Gordon) and same general aesthetic: melody-focused post bop performed with a tricky tight-but-loose feel, and often informed by his personal spirituality (except for “Denardin,” which is named after his World of Warcraft character). Check out “Eros,” an epic that pushes its memorable melody to the brink with the aim of making it sing unfiltered. “Look at the Birds” puts a contemplative, but not sedate, air to a tune that fronts beauty over chaos. “Troubled Mind” pushes and pulls its players through a free jazz maelstrom without abandoning its tonal center, like a newly discovered outtake from Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. “Lightning” meanders in that exploratory way that entices you to follow the band on whatever path they take. Reveal is further proof that Thomas is working toward his name being spoken in reverential tones, if it’s not already.

Clearly, both of these albums prove that the state of jazz piano is in excellent hands, and Artwork is here for it.