Much as organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart have worked together for many years--specific direction resting with the name heading the marquis--so, too, have keyboardist Sam Yahel, saxophonist Joshua Redman and drummer Brian Blade been working together under a variety of monikers over the past five years. Whether it's the cooperative Yaya3, Redman's Elastic Band or the Sam Yahel Trio, what differentiates each group is who chooses/contributes the material and, in the case of Redman's Elastic Band, a greater emphasis on electronics.
Yahel's stripped down organ-sax-drums trio of Truth and Beauty is closer in complexion to Yaya3 than Elastic. But with original material all from the organist's pen, and the covers--Ornette Coleman's "Check Up," Paul Simon's rarely covered "Night Game" and the Gilberto Gil/Jo?o Donato standard, "A Paz"-- chosen by Yahel, this is clearly his show. That said, one can't escape the synchronicity that's evolved with this trio, whatever the broader concept. It may be Yahel's date, but when it comes to the performance, it's as collaborative as any of the trio's other efforts.
It's hard to believe that Yahel's disposition, before this trio formed in residence at New York's Small's, was towards the centrist mainstream. Seeing him in performance with Redman at the 2005 Ottawa International Jazz Festival, the shaggy haired and bearded Yahel looked more like a jamband player than staunch traditionalist. Truth and Beauty doesn't exactly swing in a conventional sense, and Yahel's approach to the Hammond B3 is largely removed from the soul-jazz tradition, but he's clearly spent serious time wood-shedding. Still, the music on this disc owes as much to the music and rhythms of Africa, Cuba and Brazil as it does the American jazz tradition, with Yahel's closest peers being more adventurous organists like Goldings and Gary Versace, by way of Dan Wall.
The material is largely sketch-based, providing all three the opportunity to stretch. Blade rarely solos, but his free-wheeling approach makes him a conversational equal throughout. Redman, who's returned to an all-acoustic setting with Back East (Nonesuch, 2007), continues to prove that the promise of his early 1990s leap to fame has only truly become fully realized since the turn of the millennium.
The gospel tinge of Simon's "Night Game" and open-endedness of Coleman's "Check Up" are balanced by the more abstract yet unequivocally lyrical "Man O' War," irregularly-metered "Bend the Leaves" and brighter- tempo'd "Saba." Throughout, Yahel stretches the boundaries of convention for his instrument, and demonstrates an adventuresome spirit that makes for an exciting ride.
Yahel's boldest move, however, comes with his solo rendition of the elegant "A Paz." Solo piano is commonplace; solo organ less-so. Yahel's use of dynamics and nuanced expression make this a definitive if unconventional reading, cementing Truth and Beauty's position as one of the most compelling organ-trio discs of the past few years.