PIANO MAN: By their nature, little musical revelations are sneaky buggers, arriving when you least — or at most half — expect them. So it went for this music addict last week at SOhO, when Sam Yahel sat down to the piano — as part of the trio led by formidable young drummer/composer/leader Matt Slocum — and went deep, wide, and enthralling on the instrument. Unless memory serves badly (which is possible), Yahel’s informed and exploratory work that night amounted to the strongest jazz piano work I’ve heard in this club since the great Swedish jazz piano hero Bobo Stenson brought his trio to play here in the ’90s.
All due respect, truly, to Slocum, whose luminous new album Black Elk’s Dream confirms this Wisconsin-born and N.Y.C.-area-based artist’s artistic merits and ascending reputation, Yahel semi-stole the night. The pianist has duly wowed the jazz world with his work in the art form of Hammond B-3 organ playing, scooping up kudos and poll plaudits in said role, which accounted for his only other show in Santa Barbara, opening up the Steely Dan show at the Bowl in 2011. But he is like another organist of note who is also masterful in grand-piano mode, Larry Goldings (who just appeared in town, with Tierney Sutton at the Lobero). You might think dedicated organists would lack the touch sensitivity and pianistic feel of the physical keys-to-strings interactivity, but you might well be wrong, as heard via Yahel’s dynamically nuanced and brainily beautiful playing that night.
Area die-hard fans of good live jazz (an improvisation-based music more live than most) have had much to smile about this year, given the hardy, doubled-up schedule of the Jazz at the Lobero series, which continues next Wednesday with Regina Carter. From the up-and-coming, nightclub level of jazz, though, we have witnessed at least a few strong shows by solid artists (usually N.Y.C.-ish in nature) in the jazz-conducive venue of SOhO, including Slocum’s fine show, as well as the intense set by the fast-rising young keyboardist Tigran Hamasyan in November and trumpeter-leader Etienne Charles’s robust SOhO showing last summer. SOhO could conceivably become a steadier way station for touring jazz artists making their way out west. Continue bringing it on, guys. Hmm, might the Sam Yahel Trio be able to perform there? Just saying.
SOUTHERN NOTIONS AND MUSICAL POTIONS: Speaking of Carter, her return to the Lobero, where she dispensed her conceptual African-roots-rediscovery project Reverse Thread in 2012, finds her bringing along another conceptual project, Southern Comfort. Carter, deemed to be one of the towering jazz violinists of the day, has always pursued ideas and urgings beyond a standard jazz career — especially since receiving the liberating and validating MacArthur “genius grant” in 2006.
This time out, with the recently released Southern Comfort (Sony Music Masterworks) and the attendant live show headed for Santa Barbara, she has dug deep into her roots and the world of her father’s Alabaman heritage to come up with a fascinating modern redressing of archival recordings, including a spiced-up and redirected version of Hank Williams’s “Honky Tonkin’.” Her Lobero concert will feature her husband, drummer Alvester Garnett; the nimble-fingered and nimble-minded guitarist Marvin Sewell; and smatterings of vintage American field recordings, for relevant, familial context.
TO-DOINGS: Among other diversions worth noting in the busy mid-April calendar, it’s a rich week, on the Hell/Tales front, that being two major concert series in the area, Sings Like Hell at the Lobero and Tales from the Tavern in the deliciously vibe-y Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez. Tales ends its current spring season of Wednesday-night music and meetings with multi-instrumentalist John McEuen, of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Steve Martin pal/producer/muse, Will the Circle Be Unbroken album facilitator, and so much more fame. On this side of the hill, on Saturday, the Sings Like Hell wheel of fortune stops at young (23, if you must know) Canadian sensation Ariana Gillis, a wildly talented and hard-to-pin-down pop/country/folk Beatles-esque powerhouse of a singer/songwriter, whose gutsy and sometimes cleverly ornate album Forget Me Not isn’t likely to be forgotten.