Thursday, April 12, 2012

Larry Vuckovich: Somethin' Special

Tetrachord Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Somethin' Special

Fans of mainstream jazz — particularly that dating back to the 1950s and ’60s — will love this album.

The Vuckovich family escaped from Tito’s communist Yugoslavia after World War II and obtained political asylum in the States in 1951. Larry, 14 at the time, had studied classical piano in his homeland, but was drawn to jazz by listening to Armed Forces Radio during the war. The family settled in San Francisco, and his love for jazz blossomed; he haunted the record shops and jazz clubs that filled the city at the time.

Before long, Vuckovich was sitting in with the likes of Brew Moore and Cal Tjader, who he met at the famous Black Hawk. Vince Guaraldi, Tjader’s pianist at the time, accepted Vuckovich as his sole student.

Over time, Vuckovich played, worked and recorded with many of the name musicians who visited San Francisco. He developed a special affinity with jazz vocalists such as Irene Kral, David Allyn, Mel Torme and Jon Hendricks: associations that demonstrated how these contemporaries felt about the young pianist’s talent.

This album teams Vuckovich with four artists from that same era: Scott Hamilton and Noel Jewkes, sax; Paul Keller, bass; and Chuck McPherson, drums. Two tracks — “Loving Linda” and “Zeljkos Blues” — are Vuckovich compositions; the rest are jazz tunes by Sonny Clark, Horace Silver, Tadd Dameron, Dexter Gordon and Thelonious Monk, along with three wonderful standards (“Stardust,” “How Insensitive” and “What Will I Tell My Heart”).

The musical format varies from solo piano (“Pannonica”) to quartets and quintets, depending on the presence of one or two horns. Hamilton is famous for the pure tone he elicits from his tenor sax; early in his career, he emulated Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, but more recently has developed a smoother sound with echoes of Zoot Sims, Don Byas and Stan Getz.

Jewkes plays tenor and alto sax, as well as clarinet. His style is a little “looser” than Hamilton’s, and they complicate each other nicely. Keller and McPherson form the backbone of a truly swinging rhythm section; they drive the beat deftly without intruding on the melodic line.

Guaraldi’s mentorship is evident in Vuckovich’s style; he’s innovative and melds impressively with his cohorts. The result is a smooth and swinging group.

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