The five extroverts on this album have more pure fun playing jazz, I would say, offhand than just about any comparable group of musicians I know of. They exude confidence, but it is not a haughty sort of exaggerated self-assuredness, just that grinning natural ease that says "I do what I do and I haven't stopped to analyze it" or as that distinguished philosopher G. Mulligan said: "I know, don't know how." To which I should like to add Hardy's corollary; there isn't any other known way to wail.
"Somethin' Special" offers another chance for Richard "Groove" Holmes and Les McCann to combine their respective talents in a setting somewhat similar to their previous union, "Groove" (PJ-23), which featured Ben Webster. While you might think that the reunion just couldn't be complete without Ben, I suggest you think again, because there are two new men on the present recording that are among the most dazzling new artists of the year. For contractual reasons, the name of the first new voice, a saxophonist, must be withheld. Who he is, be hanged; what he is is a tough-toned swinger, that bolts out of the band like Ammons out of a Herd on a good night. Guitarist Joe Pass, who made his debut with Arnold Ross on "Sounds of Synanon" (PJ-48) combines a rich, lovely tone, sure touch, and a straight ahead style that, for me, firmly caps a whole era of jazz guitar. Joe has mastered the best characteristics of Kessel, Farlow, Raney, and Burrell (the big 4 of the '50's) and adroitly avoids the faults of each of them. If the instrument is going to go any further along these lines, I suspect Joe Pass will be in charge of the advance.
Of course, regardless of the splendid gyrations of these newcomers, it is somehow the funky (can I use that word?) organ of Groove and McCann's dancing piano that command the proceedings, with Richard's soft pedal work underlying and enriching the pulse, and Les's rhythmic comping defining the difference between a ho-hum performance and one that grabs your ears.
That original commander of the rhythm section, Ron Jefferson, is also again present by popular demand, absolutely assuring that the "section will settle" (a phrase you hear in the studio when the bassist and drummer aren't getting together). The settling that he does (and always does) is something special, without a doubt.
And that isn't all. For this listener, the most intriguing development brought out on the present recording (and one which has been glowingly evident in several recent recordings) is the evolvement of Les McCann, the composer. There are several of Les' good lines herein and if you aren't whistling them after a couple of spins of the record, well, maybe you can't whistle. But, seriously, besides the catchy melodies, Les shows an original twist or two that makes his tunes, like those of other young jazzmen such as Cornell Jones, Damiel Jackson and Stan Turrentine, structurally eligible to be jazz standards.
There is, to sum up, always room in jazz for five men like these playing music like this. The uncluttered directness of the approach they have is one of the most difficult abilities of the art to possess, and one which has entirely eluded some very talented musicians. I suspect that McCann, Holmes, Pass, and company can't recall having ever been without it.
-- John William Hardy