Valery Ponomarev’s latest release, The Messenger, reminds us that he still is a leading jazz trumpet player who has remained consistent through his years on the scene. His tone is still as bright as ever, and his licks are entirely appropriate for the solos he improvises, and his presence elevates the sidemen who work with him. Even though he doesn’t seem to call his group Universal Language any longer, Ponomarev’s style still is one that makes use of music as a wordless language that can reach the hearts of listeners and unify them in spirit. In that sense, Ponomarev, first coming to public attention as a Jazz Messenger, is a messenger in a larger sense of the word, as are all jazz musicians who become a channel for a universal message. That message usually involves truth.
Ponomarev’s journey to the realization of truth was one that few other jazz artists have taken: surreptitious flight from from his native country by deceit. But it worked. Pretending to be part of a legal Jewish emigration exodus, Ponomarev joined them and flew from the country to Vienna. And eventually to America. Where he met his idol, Art Blakey. And more unbelievably, played in the group that he used to hear over Voice Of America.
Some of those experiences are reflected in The Messenger as Ponomarev gives names and musical description to some of his experiences.
“Escape From Gorky Park” symbolizes his flight from Russia, the repression of his music more than he could stand. Playing in fits and starts and then breaking into a run, Ponomarev’s fleeing eventually results in freedom at the end of the tune. The minor-keyed “Dark Alley” wordlessly describes the fearsome walk in the shadows at night (again reminiscent of the poorly lit alleys of MoscowI’ve seen them). And “Driving To A Gig II,” with its 3/4 sway, refers to Ponomarev’s thoughts as he hurries along the interstate highway to a club, his ideas coming from nowhere and taking shape along the way.
But then he relaxes on “Stardust,” paying tribute to the succession of trumpet players who have performed the famous tune, including Ponomarev’s idol, Clifford Brown.
Once again, Ponomarev is backed by an exceptional group. Michael Karn’s deep tone is entirely reminiscent of the same richness of Ralph Moore’s or Bob Berg’s, earlier Universal Language musicians. Sid Simmons brings a harmonic depth to the tracks, elaborating on the implications of the horns’ work instead of resulting to unimaginative comping. And then there’s Jimmy Cobb, one of the most famous drummers in all of jazz, providing the feel for the tunes that magnetizes the group toward the rhythmic center.
Solidly within hard-bop territory, Valery Ponomarev nevertheless personalizes the work on The Messenger, as he always has, to allow the listener a glimpse into the events that made him into one of the most interesting, and most under-recognized, trumpeters in jazz.
Track Listing: Driving To A Gig II, Messenger From Russia, Long Distance Relationship, Escape From Gorky Park, Dark Alley, Star Dust, Mirage
Personnel: Valery Ponomarev, trumpet; Michael Karn, tenor sax; Sid Simmons, piano; Martin Zenker, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid. For some reason I remember an arrangement of Hey Jude they did. My first real exposure was Stan Kenton in the Smithville, MO high school gym. Kenton and the band director there were old friends, so he would play there from time to time. My dad took me without telling me where we were going and it was the only show he ever took me to. I remember that Bobby Shew played Send In Clowns and I damn near levitated I was so excited. The huge sound and amazing chords floored me. I believe I was 13 at the time. I immediately started practicing and taking lessons. Music became a passion and nearly a career. I also listened to Dick Wright's Jazz Show on KANU every night. I can't even start to explain what I learned lying in bed listening to Dick talk about jazz. I met him once when I was struggling to put together a solo for Joy Spring playing in a combo at KU. Stopped by his office and asked for recommendations. He showed up at my jazz ensemble rehearsal the next day with a tape with example solos. What a kind man Dick Wright was.
My advice to new listeners is to stop worrying about what music is important and focus on music you like. I spent quite a bit of my music life listening to important music I didn't necessarily like. Must say I have quite a bit more fun now listening to music that I deeply enjoy. Some of it is even important.
Login to your All About Jazz member account to submit articles and press releases, upload images, edit musician profiles, add events and business listings, communicate with other members via personal messages, submit inqueries or contribute any content.