Music review: Valery Ponomarev: Art Blakey’s Centennial, The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh

Billed as the Valery Ponomarev Quintet but emerging as a powerful sextet, the US-based Russian trumpeter’s annual visit to The Jazz Bar sees him pay expansive tribute to influential jazz drummer Art Blakey, born 100 years ago, and with whose Jazz Messengers  Ponomarev played after defecting to the States from the Soviet Union in 1973.

Valery Ponomarev: Art Blakeys Centennial, The Jazz Bar (Venue 57)

Valery Ponomarev: Art Blakey’s Centennial, The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh * * * *

The Messengers produced some of the most significant hard bop sounds of the mid-20th century and Ponomarev’s gang do it full, muscular justice. Now 76, he cuts a diminutive, garrulously avuncular but still energising figure on stage, exhorting applause and effusively praising his fellow musicians, in this case Konrad Wiszniewski on tenor sax, pianist Paul Kirby, trombonist Chris Grieve, double-bassist Ed Kelly and drummer Rick Hollander.

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While standing back and palpably enjoying the other soloists, Ponomarev himself delivered terse staccato runs and cascades. Wiszniewski proved in prime form right from the start of the opening Blues for Two (Ponomarev’s own composition for the Messengers), which swung along beefily with a bellicose trombone break and rangy piano, setting an impressive tone for the rest of the gig, which took in Benny Golson’s bustling, boppy Are You Real? and an exuberantly swaggering treatment of another Golson classic, Blues March, with explosive interjections from Hollander.

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Some all-out bebop saw urgent unison blowing and the rhythm section moving things along apace. And whether or not it is indeed “the most spiritual song ever written,” as Ponomarev assured us, Moanin’, by Blakey pianist Bobby Timmons, certainly remains one of the most instantly recognisable jazz numbers, and here done full justice, the horns responding to that familiar, bluesy piano call and the band taking it off with gusto – for Art’s sake.

Until 25 August

Jim Gilchrist