Valery Ponomarev cuts an unassuming figure on stage: he’s a diminutive man who enjoys his own stage banter a touch more than anyone else in the room. You might not immediately believe he cut his chops with Art Blakey and the Messengers until he starts playing. Ponomarev plays the trumpet like there's no tomorrow, producing whirlwind solos on top of tunes from Cole Porter, Benny Goodman and a number of original compositions.
He may be the biggest name, but Ponomarev's co-stars at the Edinburgh Jazz Bar are all big talents. Strathclyde saxophonist Stewart Forbes, making his debut in a quintet that has played together on-and-off for nearly 25 years, receives a share of the spotlight that belies his supposed rookie status. A hulking great man with a throat that inflates like a bullfrog's when he blows, Forbes has the look of a man born for his instrument and his many leading solos confirm this impression, leaving Ponomarev cooing with delight and prompting rapturous applause.
Ponomarev is naturally hyperbolic when introducing his band, but he might not be exaggerating when he describes Brian Shiels as the best active double bassist on the planet. Shiels has a feel for and connection with his instrument beyond the default level of cool expected from workaday double bassists. His solos sometimes reach a rate of notes per second that, if his howls of pleasure are anything to go by, takes even him by surprise. He is joined by pianist Paul Kirby and drummer Bill Kyle, looking as sprightly as ever playing in the venue he founded; these virtuoso musicians combine to give a terrific jam session.