Those left a little let down when Sam Yahel's organ wasn't anywhere on Joshua Redman's 2007 Back East, Truth and Beauty is your redemption. Fans should appreciate Redman, Yahel and Brian Blade recording as the Sam Yahel Trio name.
Saying that Yahel's got a command over the Hammond B3 isn't an understatement, it's taking the easy way out of trying to describe Yahel's unity with the instrument. Truth and Beauty shows Yahel at home on the B3, utilizing every tool offered to alter timbre and deliver chords and right-hand melodies in swells of volume. These are all subtle, even hermetic variations. You'll never catch Yahel slamming his volume pedal and you might not even notice when he changes the speed on his Leslie cabinet.
Trying to follow all the intricacies of Yahel's organ work is dizzying. A passive listen might not catch what's happening below the melody, where Yahel's treasures are hidden. The catch is that those subtleties come at a price, and absorbing Yahel as a bandleader requires an attentive listen to follow his ideas. That's not necessarily bad ? listeners won't have to idle through non-musical dramatics. If Yahel relies on a bag of tricks, he made space by throwing out the high-speed trills and lengthy sustains. Still, this album desperately needs a gunslinger like Redman.
Redman's so strong on Truth and Beauty that this album could suffer from an identity crisis. But Yahel's assertive here. He's playing all the notes in the bass and the harmony, single-handedly filling most of the space on Truth and Beauty. Plus Yahel's B-3 swirls underneath or in counterpoint to all of Redman's playing. It's hard to tell if Yahel knows exactly where Redman's going, or if Yahel's actually driving the solos. If it's the latter, conducting with the B-3 makes Yahel an interesting bandleader.
Drummer Brian Blade and Yahel still bring the funky qualities that made Redman's Elastic Band accessible to fans of the jazz-funk hybrids. You'll hear the same lilt and groove that these guys have developed over the past few years ? they're in the pocket no matter how complex the song gets. Truth and Beauty isn't a danceable album. Blade's a great drummer when the beat's straight on, and he's a phenomenal drummer when he has the rhythmic space to loosen up and play outside the beat.
Yahel sounds soulful his first time through the ghostly melody in "Man O' War," but then harmonizes that line to uncover its minor-key eeriness. The monster comes to life with a jolt from Redman's tenor. "Bend The Leaves" might be the album's funk piece with choppy pentatonic organ lines, but even here Yahel meanders to a solo that's almost baroque before returning with chops that would fit on a Jimmy Smith album. The solos are played over one of Truth and Beauty's more musically interesting progressions.
Truth and Beauty is a laid back session for these musicians whether they're playing Yahel's originals or covers: Ornette Coleman's "Check Up," Paul Simon's "Night Game" and a tune from Brazilian collaborators Joćo Donato and Gilberto Gil, "A Paz." That's an impressive list, but Yahel's originals are still the memorable songs. Truth and Beauty's a pleasant album but it's not a standout. Dedicated fans of Yaya3 and Redman's Elastic Band should grab Truth and Beauty. Getting to hear these three play in Yahel's territory brings out great performances, even when Truth and Beauty's songs lack the punching power of some previous outings.