In an interview with Art Blakey in 1987, the renowned drummer took a moment to ponder his brief yet momentous time on Earth: “Truth is stranger than fiction, and people are afraid of the truth. You’re born, your destination is death—it’s what you did in between. I don’t know if I did everything right, but I did the best I possibly could—I have no fear about anything. I can’t set the world on fire—all I do is just try to light a candle where I am; I just go about my life.”
A beautiful homage to Art Blakey from a professional cohort of musicians.
Three years later, Blakey died in Manhattan, his gift being not simply his fiery passion for hard bebop and a legacy of more than four decades of drumming, but the iterations of a man who knew exactly what he wanted to do in his life and where he wanted to go.
It comes as no surprise, then, that another Jazz musician would take up his mantle, having lived his own life on his own terms. Valery Ponomarev, under the guided wing of Art Blakey himself, chose to escape the stranglehold of Soviet oppression by fleeing to America and joining the Jazz Messengers ensemble, touring the States with his impressive trumpet skills. As his mentor and inspiration, it seems fitting that Ponomarev holds a well-lit torch to the centennial of Blakey with powerful conviction, where the Valery Ponomarev Quintet do the legendary drummer supreme justice.
Contrary to the name, the quintet actually comprises six musicians: Konrad Wiszniewski on saxophone, Paul Kirby on piano, Ed Kelly on bass, Rick Hollander on drums, Chris Grieve on trombone and Ponomarev on trumpet. Ponomarev makes for an eccentric frontman, playing off his Russian origins with a Piotr Rosmenko-esque persona. Evidently, the 76-year-old is not afraid to have fun, and lets his passion come across through his musical talents, making for the perfect frontman.
The night in question saw extensive conversation between the drums and bass, orated by the brass section’s playful jaunt into the third quarter. Wiszniewski truly blows it out the park with the sax, whilst Kirby’s piano is steadfast, the guiding backbone of the troupe that solidifies their melodic cohesion. The night concluded with a powerful rendition of ‘Caravan’, putting the drumming to the fore and cementing the group’s collective tribute to one of the 20th Century’s best drummers. Truly, a diligent performance worthy of his friend and mentor, 1919-2019 Art Blakey’s Centennial: Valery Ponomarev Quintet is a beautiful homage to Art Blakey from a professional cohort of musicians abiding with Blakey's personal philosophy to live life on their own terms and without fear.