When he first came to the attention of jazz fans, keyboardist Sam Yahel became noteworthy as a Hammond B-3 player with a modern approach to his instrument, blending open-minded post-bop with traditionalist motivations and often breaking the mold of the sometimes stale jazz organ categorization. Recently, Yahel has moved forward by returning to his roots. Yahel began his musical career using acoustic piano and starting with his 2009 release, Hometown, and continuing with his latest outing, From Sun to Sun, Yahel has avoided the organ (for the most part) in favor of an all-acoustic piano trio format.
Hometown was a fine gambit, a warm-up in some ways, but not an essential recording. However, on From Sun to Sun Yahel, along with returning bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jochen Rueckert, showcases his proficiency as composer, performer and interpreter with a mix of ballads (an inspired rendition of Donald Kahn's Tin Pan Alley standard "A Beautiful Friendship"), free-flowing groove (Yahel's up-swinging "By Hook or By Crook") and Southern-stained jazz (the modern New Orleans-steeped "Git It").
Despite the overwhelmingly acoustic setup, Yahel has certainly not abandoned his progressive inclinations. The brief, pensive "After the Storm" includes an undertow of brooding electronics which help accentuate the tune's replication of the respite after a draught of thunder and lightning. The equally short and moody "Blink and Move On" also combines piano with organ embellishments which begin as an understatement and then rise to the surface. Both pieces have a transitory intonation and subjective fadeouts, and both cuts almost act as interludes rather than complete compositions.
On the flip side, the trio handles themselves superbly on the fluid, mid-tempo "Toy Balloon," which shifts from nodding swing groove to explorative commentary. Rueckert maintains a strong, forward rhythm where he interlocks with Penman's correspondingly stimulated bass lines, while Yahel quotes from several sources during the seven-minute track. Yahel also sets expectations high on the tense "Saba," (probably named after the eco-friendly Caribbean island) which has a restless tendency and a skittish melody. The trio starts out elevated and energetic and at the conclusion they retreat and slow down to end with a soft-edged waning.
The threesome closes the nearly 70-minute, 13-track undertaking with more Tin Pan Alley translations. Cole Porter's "So in Love" has an agitated and anxious panache with quickened rhythmic pulses from all three players, as if the search for romance was a fast sprint to the finish line rather than a customary and persistently-paced pursuit. Yahel provides a cool, classically-tinted solo piano interlude heading into the final track, a congenial, swinging version of Vernon Duke's "Taking a Chance on Love," which has an upbeat bearing which demonstrates the trio's flair for working with a durable melody and putting their own stamp on a classic recorded by too many artists to list here