By Ric Bang
Buy CD: From Sun to Sun
When I first heard Sam Yahel, he was best known for his skill on the Hammond B3 organ, usually in a trio setting. He has returned to his original instrument — the piano — for most of the tunes on this album; I’m quite impressed. He has maintained his trio format, which includes bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jochen Rueckert. They’ve been together for more than 10 years, and it shows.
All but three of the 13 tracks are original compositions by Yahel; the exceptions are Donald Kahn’s “A Beautiful Friendship,” Cole Porter’s “So in Love” and Vernon Duke’s “Taking a Chance on Love.” Yahel’s interpretations are superior to most I’ve heard; he prefers mid and up-tempos meters, and his touch is impeccable. But I’m most moved by his melodic experimentation; he finds ways to add neat “frills” while still maintaining the original melodic line in the background. That skill nails your attention to what he’s doing.
The piano is a “friendlier” instrument than the B3, when it comes to demonstrating technique, dexterity and skill; the organ’s sound and tone tend to “muffle” the musical lines. There’s no place to hide with a piano; every note (and fluff, for that matter) stands out crisply. Yahel’s complex fingering and runs on “A Beautiful Friendship” — and on many of his originals — would be muddled on a B3, if not impossible to achieve.
Yahel is an excellent organist, but on the piano he’s an artist.