JAZZIZ: 10 Albums You Need to Know: January 2020
“Russian-born hard bop trumpeter Valery Ponomarev, whose playing is defined by fiery enthusiasm, pays tribute to his mentor Art Blakey on his latest album, Our Father Who Art Blakey: The Centennial. Ponomarev was a member of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers from 1977 into the ’80s and here, he arranges compositions associated with this legendary rotating ensemble and leads a stellar band of his own, including such musicians as bassist Rusland Khain, pianist Mamiko Watanabe and saxophonist Anthony Nelson, among others. All members get a chance to shine within his arrangement, and Ponomarev takes solos of his own on the standard “Caravan” and the Wayne Shorter-penned ‘Tell It Like It Is’.”
Valery Ponomarev Big Band is:
Valery Ponomarev, leader & trumpet
Victor Jones, drums
Ruslan Khain, bass
Mamiko Watanabe, piano
Todd Bashore (lead), Chris Hemingway – alto saxes
Peter Brainin (lead), Steven Carrington – tenor saxes
Anthony Nelson, baritone sax
Stafford Hunter (lead), Alvin Walker, Jimmy O’Connel, Jack Jeffers – trombones
Rick Henly (lead), David Neves, Antoine Drye, Waldron Ricks – trumpets
Stepping into the legacy of Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Bill Hardman, Wynton Marsalis and the many others that followed Valery in the group, Valery Ponomarev was a totally unknown musician from Russia, only in the USA for a few years, when he became the Messengers’ trumpeter. Art Blakey became a ‘father-figure’ of sorts for Valery as the Messengers ‘roared’ through Valery’s time with the group. (1976-1980).
Art Blakey’s leadership set a standard for all groups of the bebop and hard bop group to follow. The many incarnations of the Messengers were arguably some of the greatest jazz groups of all time. The Messenger repertoire is well represented on this LIVE recording with excellent soloists spread throughout the band.
Valery Ponomarev is a hard bop trumpeter who plays with both fire and sensitivity and was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers from 1977 into the 1980s. Leading this slashing big band, Ponomarev and his crew dive into a session of compositions that have been associated with Blakey and mostly written by some former band members. They have been brought to life on a release from Summit Records entitled Our Father Who Art Blakey: The Centennial.
The arrangements written by Ponomarev, are tightly knit and are propelled by the exemplary drumming of Victor Jones. Valery has restricted himself to just a couple of trumpet solos on “Tell It Like It Is” and “Caravan”. However his charts have provided the space for other band members such as bassist Ruslan Khain, pianist Mamiko Watanabe, and baritone saxophonist Anthony Nelson among others to develop their brightly layered ideas, behind interesting ensemble backgrounds.
Tenor saxophonist Benny Golson who was part of the array of players who were in the Jazz Messengers wrote “ Are You Real” with Ponomarev’s evocative chart filled with dexterous unison voicing by the sax section. The band whips through the number with speed and power featuring a layered piano solo from Watanabe, and an extended drum break from Jones.
Two other individuals who made unique contributions to the Blakey band legacy, were composer, arranger, and tenor sax stalwart Wayne Shorter, and the Jazz Messenger’s first pianist and original co-leader Horace Silver. In this session, Shorter’s compositions “ Tell It Like It Is”, “One By One” and “Hammer Head” are heard to good effect with blankets of harmony throughout the compositions.
Silver’s piece, an aptly named “Quick Silver” jumps out from the opening chords with a frothy tone and crisp swing. Drummer Jones delivers a swaggering drum break full of agility and physical force.
Valery Ponomarev has put together first class band that has a solid footing in hard bop jazz.
– Pierre Giroux for Audiophile Audition
To a large extent, trumpeter Valery Ponomarev’s career began with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. While he had recorded four songs in his native Russia with pianist Vadim Sakun during 1967-68, his next recording was on Blakey’s Gypsy Folk Tales in 1977, four years after he moved to the U.S. He was a member of the Jazz Messengers during 1976-80, his final recordings with Blakey as part of the short-lived Messengers Big Band where he played next to his successor, Wynton Marsalis.
While he has had a productive solo career since then, like most of the Blakey alumni, Ponomarev continues to identify himself as a graduate of the Jazz Messengers. He took a year of arranging courses from Don Sebesky and in 2014 led and arranged for his Blakey tribute big band (Our Father Who Art Blakey), recording an album for the ZOHO label. Their second recording celebrates Blakey’s centennial by featuring Ponomarev’s arrangements of seven numbers from the Jazz Messengers’ repertoire plus two other pieces.
While Ponomarev is an excellent trumpeter, he only takes two solos on this live set, choosing to focus on his arrangements and the playing of his impressive big band. The Centennial begins with a brief overture written by Ponomarev and then launches into a driving version of a Wayne Shorter blues, “Tell It Like It Is”. Here, as throughout the set, there are hints of the Messengers’ version but the solos and the arrangements do not copy the past and instead are creative within the hardbop genre. Victor Jones takes some drum breaks in the Blakey tradition and there are good spots for Ponomarev, tenor saxophonist Peter Brainin and trombonist Alvin Walker. Shorter, who is also represented by “One By One” and “Hammer Head”, is joined by such Messenger composers as Benny Golson (“Are You Real”) and Horace Silver (“Quick Silver”) although the most exciting arrangements are actually “Caravan” (alto saxophonist Todd Bashore and baritone saxophonist Anthony Nelson take solo honors) and Bud Powell’s boppish “Webb City”. In addition to those already mentioned, the consistently excellent soloists include alto saxophonist Chris Hemingway, tenor saxophonist Steven Carrington, pianist Mamiko Watanabe, trombonists Jimmy O’Connell and Stafford Hunter and trumpeters David Neves, Waldron Ricks and Antoine Drye. But even with all of these fine players, Ponomarev should not be so modest in taking solos of his own. Art Blakey would have enjoyed sitting in with this big band.
-Scott Yanow for The New York City Jazz Record
In tribute to the works of the great drummer and bandleader, Art Blakey, and in celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday, Valery Ponomarev assembled some of New York City’s finest jazz cats. This is Ponomarev’s second big band recording and he has used this recording to show his passion about never forgetting the music, nor the spirit of Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers.
Opening with Wayne Shorter’s “Tell It Like It Is” Valery Ponomarev takes a trumpet solo, along with Peter Brainin on tenor saxophone. Alvin Walker offers a featured bass solo and there’s a spirited drum solo by Victor Jones. Like the announcer says at the racetrack, We are off and running!
Bandleader and trumpeter, Valery Ponomarev, carries his father’s Russian name, but he never knew his father. He has often said that Art Blakey became his father figure during the time he arrived in America and played as part of the Jazz Messengers. That was from 1976 to 1980. Blakey’s group set high standards for all the bebop and hardbop groups that followed. Ponomarev still marvels that as a totally unknown musician from Russia, Art Blakey chose him to fill the trumpet spot in his Jazz Messenger group. Just contemplating the legacy that followed still gives Valery pause. He marvels at the iconic names of those who (after him) became part of the Jazz Messenger legacy like Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Bill Hardman, Wynton Marsalis and so many other talented trumpet players.
Although Valery Ponomarev is only featured on trumpet twice during this project, he is proud of his inspired arrangements and the talented musicians who play those arrangements. This jazz journalist was struck by the baritone saxophone solo of Anthony Nelson on “One by One,” and Mamiko Watanabe’s creative and improvisational piano solos are stellar throughout. It is obvious that Mr. Ponomarev knows how to capture the energy and essence of Art Blakey. The band ‘smokes’ on “Caravan” and features a fiery solo by Todd Bashore on alto saxophone, with Nelson on Bari sax again and Valery Ponomarev on trumpet. Once again, the sensuous fingers of Mamiko Watanabe pull the best out of the 88-keys. There are a number of other soloists who are super stars in their own rights like Stafford Hunter on trombone and trumpeter, Antoine Drye. The appreciation and responsive applause from a ‘live’ audience solidifies this reviewer’s opinion that Valery Ponomarev’s big band makes magical music. Peter Brainin dances his tenor saxophone all over the tune, “Webb City” written by Bud Powell. On “Quick Silver” the horn lines swing and sing at a brisk tempo. Their repeated harmonic refrain pulls the curtains open for various soloists to step forward and bask in the spotlight. Chris Hemmingway shines on his alto sax and Waldron Ricks is bright and formidable on trumpet.
You will enjoy playing this gutsy, energized, hardbop album over and over again. Special thanks to arranger, bandleader Valery Ponomarev for his fabulous tribute album and Happy Birthday to Art Blakey. May his musical candles never be blown out and may his amazing legacy be celebrated, like a jazzy birthday party, from one generation to the next.
VALERY PONOMAREV BIG BAND LIVE/Our Father Who Art Blakey-The Centennial: So enamored with Blakey’s sound and fury, Ponomarev rounds up the big band again to travel some of the same ground in celebration of the master’s 100th birthday. Note perfect without being slavish, he demonstrated his love for this before and the love still burns brightly. For fans of great jazz played right, not just fans of Blakey, this fast ball right down the middle hits all the right notes in fine form.