Trumpeter Valery Ponomarev's life in New York City began at the end of 1973 when he arrived here from Soviet Russia, a harrowing and inspiring story recounted in his colorful autobiography, On the Flip Side of Sound, and the award-winning documentary film by Edward Topol, Trumpeter from Russia. That's also when his life in jazz truly began, because not long after he met the man who already was his hero, and soon would become his mentor and jazz father, master drummer and leader of the Jazz Messengers, Art Blakey. Back then, Blakey gave Valery the ultimate compliment: You were a Messenger long before you actually joined the Messengers. And today, long after he left the Messengers, Valery still is a Messenger. So it was only natural that this first recording and ZOHO debut by his big band, titled Our Father Who Art Blakey, would be a tribute to that towering figure in his life, and in the life of jazz. Transforming small group charts into a big band format might seem to pose a challenge for a jazz arranger, but, Valery explains, not in this case. The most natural thing is Art Blakey's music, he maintains. If you listen closely it is a 'big band' already. Art Blakey's concept, Art Blakey's way of playing, his whole approach to music comes from big bands. Art Blakey, before he became Art Blakey, played with Duke Ellington, he played with Earl 'Fatha' Hines, he was the drummer in Billy Eckstine's big band. The original Messengers of 1949 was a big band. That's where his learning came from. He was not a small group player yet. Bobby Timmons' Moanin' is a tune that has meant the world to Valery. In Russia, the first record I got was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, with Lee Morgan, playing Moanin'. Very soon I learned all the solos by memory. If you asked me what to send to outer space as an example of jazz music, I would send that record and that would be it. And they would figure out the rest.
Review...But the most provocative soloist in the group is Valery Ponomarev, a Russian trumpeter who combines bristling attack with dazzling execution and a very neat, compact, controlled development of his solos. John S. Wilson --The New York Times
. . . a major new soloist . . . from the Soviet Union. Listening to Valery Ponomarev on a blindfold-test basis, you could not possibly distinguish him from one of the more inspired and authentic of America's great black trumpeters in the driving, hard-bop jazz genre that is his chosen idiom. Leonard Feather --Los Angeles Times
...Consider Valery Ponomarev, the Russian émigré trumpeter who immediately preceded Wynton Marsalis in the Jazz Messengers. Abandoning the land of giant steppes for the Harvard of hard bop should have made Ponomarev something of a celebrity . . .. [On Trip To Moscow] Ponomarev is writing relaxed lines with inviting twists that are straight out of the Blakey/Silver axis. He is also blowing with a wide, cozy sound and ideas that . . . never outstrip his technique. --The Boston Phoenix