Joey deFrancesco. Tony Monaco. Larry Goldings. Barbara Dennerlein. All at the forefront of the current generation of jazz organists and heirs to the mantle of Jimmy Smith, Charles Earland and Jack McDuff.
Oh yeah, there's one more notable: Sam Yahel. But with the release this week of his fourth effort Truth And Beauty, Yahel is making the case that there is still room for another distinctive voice in the well-established world of the Hammond B-3.
Like both Smith and his more cerebral counterpoint Larry Young, Yahel's B-3 sound displays a lot of gospel influence, but like Young alone, Yahel isn't seeking to wow his listener with greasy vamps; it's the subtleties that will grab you.
The first few times I listened to this CD, Young's epic Unity came to mind. Not because any particular track on Yahel's release is a dead ringer for any of Young's because there aren't any. Rather, it's because Yahel similarly combines swinging and testifying with elements unconventional to jazz, creating a sort new kind of jazz as a result. He also gets his bandmembers very much involved, because he picked a couple of sidemen---saxophonist Joshua Redman and drummer Brian Blade---who buy into his vision wholeheartedly.
The "Sam Yahel Trio" is in reality the third name for the same NYC-based combo previously known of YaYa3 and the Joshua Redman Elastic Band. While YaYa was more bop-ish and the Elastic Band thrived on the groove, the Yahel Trio seeks to go beyond the natural constraints of either. Instead, the Yahel Trio is more apt to explore other avenues like samba, folk and even some avant garde that doesn't replace, but rather, enhances the jazz underpinnings.
Redman, the biggest name of the three, has got to be one of the most adaptable tenormen on the scene today. His ability to effortlessly tailor his style to any setting while maintaining his own identity is unsurpassed among current players and is the reason why Yahel would have been wise to make Joshua his reed player for this session even if he hadn't had such an extended history with him.
Blade, too, seems a logical choice; his technique is top-notch but it's his shadings that set him apart and provide the kind of distinction that Yahel was undoubtedly looking for out of his drummer. He knew he would get that from Blade.
For Truth, Yahel employs a just-right mixture of originals and some of the more obscure covers by notable composers to create a myriad of styles and moods held together by quietly efficient musicianship and empathetic interaction.
This approach is evident right away from the percolating, opening notes of the beginning title track. Here, we hear the first of many examples throughout where Yahel starts out stating the melody simply and slips in discrete layers at each passing. The increasing depth of the song seems to occur subconsciously to the listener all while the Yahel & Company are laying down a groove.
On "Check Up," an Ornette Coleman tune, Yahel shows that harmolodics (or "sound grammar" as the old master master calls it today) applied to an organ-led combo not only works, it it can work quite well. Blade's tempo changing here is reminiscent of Roy Haynes at his best. He exceeds even that fine performance on the bouncing vamp excercise "Saba."
Redman shines even while taking the backseat throughout the album, but his distinct, sweet tenor comes to the fore on tracks like "Festinhas." "Man O' War," another showcase for Redman, is a waltz but with sophisticated harmonic changes that sets it apart from most other waltzes.
Paul Simon's "Night Game" is given a sorrowful, soulful rendering and is the best of the gentler tunes in this collection. The Brazilian number "La Paz," performed solo, is introspective and almost like a spiritual in Yahel's hands.
The selection where Yahel particularly excels on all fronts is his own "Bend The Leaves." It's got a percussive, vaguely African flavor with distinctive sections that transition into each other smoothly. Yahel doesn't waste a single note on his solo turn. And the clever timbre changes he makes to his organ, as noted in the liner notes written by old friend Brad Mehldau, are a "subtle masterstroke."
Hey, there's nothing wrong with having a some of the deep fried stuff in your sonic diet once in a while. But with Truth And Beauty, Sam Yahel delivers the steak. As in, prime New York strip.