Sam Yahel: From Sun to Sun

Bill Beuttler reviews the new release from keyboardist Sam Yahel, 'From Sun to Sun

Sam Yahel switched his allegiance largely to Hammond B3 organ roughly 20 years ago, but don’t get the idea he gave up playing piano. For the past decade Yahel has also led a piano trio with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jochen Rueckert, and their engagingly sophisticated new album, From Sun to Sun, deserves to catapult them into the front ranks of today’s working trios.

There is a touch of atmospheric organ here and there as well (most noticeably on the title track), but piano dominates the recording, with traces of Yahel’s apparent influences peeking out in various spots-as perhaps hinted at by the album’s title. A little of Ahmad Jamal’s airy precision here (“2 Pilgrims”), Herbie Hancock-style harmonics there (“One False Move”), Keith Jarrett-like bluesiness elsewhere (“Git It”), and occasional evocations of more than one of them (“Saba,” “Toy Balloon,” “By Hook or by Crook”). Nat King Cole famously performed two of the three standards covered (“A Beautiful Friendship,” which Cole sang to George Shearing’s accompaniment, and Vernon Duke’s “Taking a Chance on Love”), and Chick Corea recorded the third-Cole Porter’s “So in Love”-with his Akoustic trio a few years back. On the latter, Yahel’s playing calls to mind Corea and Bill Evans more than the others named above. “Prelude,” meanwhile, could cause listeners to think of Bach.

But Yahel is no mere mimic. His playing, improvising and composing are all quietly brilliant. His compatriots get their opportunities to shine, too-Penman on “Taking a Chance on Love,” or Rueckert on “One False Move,” or the two them jointly propelling “So in Love”-but they keep their focus on serving the trio and the music. And that music, like that of Yahel’s pianist predecessors, combines a highly enjoyable mix of challenge and charm.