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Larry Vuckovich: Somethin' Special

Bruce Lindsay By

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Pianist Larry Vuckovich made his recording debut as a leader with Blue Balkan (Inner City Records, 1980), although his playing career began in the '50s, after he arrived in the United States from his native Yugoslavia as a teenager. His recorded output as a leader has been relatively sparse—around a dozen albums—but he's carved out a successful career as a sideman, most notably in a 25-year relationship with singer Jon Hendricks.

On Somethin' Special, Vuckovich and his regular East Coast rhythm section of bassist Paul Keller and drummer Chuck McPherson are joined by saxophonists Scott Hamilton and Noel Jewkes. The repertoire comes mainly from bop composers such as Horace Silver, Tadd Dameron and Sonny Clark, with Vuckovich adding two of his own tunes to the list. Vuckovich has a light touch, which he uses to deliver some sparklingly delicate solos—his unaccompanied rendition of Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica" is especially lovely—and which eminently suits the role of rhythm section player in support of his guest saxophonists.

Hamilton is probably the best-known and most prolific recording artist on this date, and while he's not known as a bop player, his talent and ability ensure that he sounds immediately comfortable with the tunes, right from his opening solo on Clark's "Somethin' Special." Jewkes, based in the San Francisco area, has a slightly fatter, funkier tone than Hamilton on tenor, ably demonstrated by his superb playing on Silver's "Enchantment." His soprano on Vuckovich's "Loving Linda," is crystal clear and shows exceptional lyricism.

The key tune on Somethin' Special is Dexter Gordon's "Cheese Cake." One of three tunes that feature all five players, it's also the longest track at just over nine minutes, and gives all members of the quintet a chance to stretch out. Hamilton and Jewkes sound like they've been playing partners for years, while Keller and McPherson both add punchy solos.

Somethin' Special is a lovely album, beautifully performed. Vuckovich has selected a set of tunes that includes some unjustly unfamiliar numbers, and Hamilton and Jewkes add grace and sensitivity to the excellent playing of the central trio.

Track Listing: Somethin' Special; Enchantment; What Will I Tell My Heart?; Comin' Home Baby; Soultrane; How Insensitive; Pannonica; Cheese Cake; Loving Linda; Zeljko's Blues; Star Dust.

Personnel: Larry Vuckovich: piano; Paul Keller: bass; Chuck McPherson: drums; Noel Jewkes: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone (1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9); Scott Hamilton: tenor saxophone (1, 3, 4, 6, 8).

Title: Somethin' Special | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Tetrachord Music

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