Who is Russian-born trumpeter Valery Ponomarev's favorite musician? A clue may be found in the title of Ponomarev's first CD as leader of his New York City-based big band: Our Father Who Art Blakey. The first jazz recording he heard while still in Russia, Ponomarev recalls, was Blakey's Jazz Messengers with trumpeter Lee Morgan playing pianist Bobby Timmons' jazz touchstone, "Moanin.'" Later on, Ponomarev was able to play that song (and many others) as a member of the Messengers in the late '70s, wherein the irrepressible Blakey served as his friend, mentor and "jazz father."
Ponomarev continues to repay that debt, this time transposing tunes associated with the Messengers to a big-band format while adding a pair of his own emphatic charts (the brief curtain-raising "Overture" and spicy "Gina's Cooking") to the mix. The band is reinforced on two numbers ("Moanin,'" "Blues March") by another former Messenger, the illustrious tenor saxophonist Benny Golson (still swinging at age eighty-five), who composed "Blues March" for Blakey himself (drummer Victor Jones sits in admirably for the maestro on this new version). Completing the in-concert program are Freddie Hubbard's "Crisis" and a couple of winners by Duke Jordan, "Jordu" (publicized by the renowned Max Roach / Clifford Brown Quintet) and "No Hay Problemas."
Listening to Ponomarev's arrangements, it's clear that his roots are in bop. Not that anything sounds the least dated, but the harmonic designs and rhythmic patterns would have been right at home on a Blue Note album from the '50s or '60s. Ponomarev has taken those components and redesigned them for a twenty-first century audience. It's a strategy that works well throughout. Ponomarev's lively "Overture," which runs for less than a minute, leads seamlessly to "Moanin'" and the first of Golson's masterful solos. "Crisis," from the 1961 album Mosiac, is a mid-tempo groover that showcases trumpeter Josh Evans, tenor Steven Carrington and trombonist Stafford Hunter. "Jordu" is next (hermetic ensemble work underscoring bright solos by trumpeter Chris Rogers and tenor Peter Brainin), followed by the prancing "No Hay Problemas," featuring Evans, Carrington and drummer Jones.
Baritone saxophonist Anthony Nelson is eloquent on "Gina's Cooking," as are Rogers, alto Todd Bashore and pianist Mamiko Watanabe. Golson takes his second solo, and Ponomarev his first, on the iconic "Blues March," which ends the concert on a buoyant note punctuated by robust statements from Bashore, Watanabe, Jones and trombonist Corey Wallace. In sum, a splendid performance, one that embraces Ponomarev's tradition-bound stance while pointing inflexibly toward the future. Somewhere, Art Blakey must have been smiling broadly.
Overture; Moanin’; Crisis; Jordu; No Hay Problemas; Gina’s Cooking; Blues March.
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