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Music Review: Larry Vuckovich – Somethin’ Special

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The last time I crossed paths with Larry Vuckovich, smoky film noir was in the air. There was a woman in red to go with the deception, and there was a lot of smoke.

With his latest vision, Vuckovich is looking to tradition and to the building blocks of jazz. Somethin’ Special, out now on Tetrachord Music, is a smiling and swinging homage to the likes of Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Clark, and other big guns. More than that, though, it’s a fond look ahead at what could be possible in the ever-expanding world of jazz.

Somethin’ Special features an assortment of quality players, including special guest Scott Hamilton (tenor saxophone), Noel Jewkes (tenor and soprano saxophone), Paul Keller (bass), and Chuck McPherson (drums).

The title track kicks things off with a Sonny Clark number that swings like nobody’s business. Hamilton tackles the first solo with a sequence of tuneful lines that resound genuinely. There’s a sense of purity and no-nonsense in how the ensemble plays through the minor blues of Clark’s original.

That sense of relaxed camaraderie permeates Somethin’ Special, happily, and the record becomes an enjoyable outing of mainstream jazz. Don’t confuse the comfortable swing with background music, though, as Vuckovich’s group grabs attention from the get-go and never lets up.

Take the head-nodding funky sway of “Comin’ Home Baby,” for instance. This Ben Tucker original lays it out hard, burning away with a blistering lead from Hamilton and firm rhythm from Keller and McPherson.

And there’s “Cheese Cake,” a Dexter Gordon number that springs from Vuckovich’s experiences playing with the bebop pioneer. It makes sense that it features two sturdy tenor performances, as Gordon’s trailblazing on the instrument still resonates today.

A little Serbian flavour shows up on “Zeljko’s Blues,” a Vuckovich original that strips the outfit down to a tight trio. A tribute to Zeljko Kerleta, “one of the top, highly knowledgeable jazz presenters on the scene today in Serbia,” the track rocks snugly as long meter blues.

Somethin’ Special is a clever and cool look at what moves the pianist and composer musically. This is no measly tribute, however, as Vuckovich’s group springs forward with sparkling drive and pure swing to explore the foundations of frank jazz that have yet to be laid.

 

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