Pianist Larry Vuckovich makes concept albums, but his concepts are flexible and his illustrations are fresh. Somethin’ Special is mostly about late bop, Blue Note-style. Not a novel idea, but Vuckovich chooses pieces by essential composers that have not been heard enough: Sonny Clark’s title track, Horace Silver’s “Enchantment,” Tadd Dameron’s “Soultrane,” Dexter Gordon’s “Cheese Cake.” Then he brings in tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton, an elegant improviser whose style predates World War II. It is fun to hear Hamilton get politely down and slightly dirty, especially on Ben Tucker’s nasty “Comin’ Home Baby.”
Vuckovich also uses Noel Jewkes, a fluent, underexposed tenor saxophonist who, back in the day, played blues and rock with Michael Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield. Jewkes’ feature is “Soultrane.” His dark sound suggests withheld secrets and his touch feels like someone muscular choosing to be gentle.
If Hamilton often gets pushed out of his comfort zone, he also gets two tunes right in his wheelhouse. He turns the obscure ballad “What Will I Tell My Heart?” into shameless, seductive romanticism, and he caresses “How Insensitive” as he glides with it.
Throughout, the rhythm section of Vuckovich, bassist Paul Keller and drummer Chuck McPherson creates the sophisticated snap that this music requires. Vuckovich takes two solo features that display his intellectual and spiritual resources as a pianist. He liberates Monk’s “Pannonica” from the hard turns and stops that its composer gave it, and lets it flow. “Stardust” is relatively faithful except for all the lush, extravagant decorations that never depart from the rapt emotion of Hoagy Carmichael’s story.