Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson with Valery Ponomarev – PANORAMA. Imaginary Records 010; Released 1998. The last two SS&F records were strictly trios; while the group enjoys exploring their dynamics, this time they wanted more. Jeff Siegel says “we also enjoy mixing it up with other players – particularly horn players”; Tim Ferguson wanted “a special person … able to contribute to it without disrupting its delicate balance.” That person was one-time Jazz Messenger Valery Ponomarev, who brought his talent and his three horns. The trio’s intimate interplay (they played togerther nine years) is there as always, but the new voice changes how the others react, and it changes the flavor of the disc. Don’t worry – it’s still delicious.
The piano charges strong on Siegel’s “Magical Spaces”, a blues in 6/8. While Stevens riffs loud, the theme by Valery is soft – it seems that he is comping for Stevens ! Valery’s solo is bolder, and tied close to the theme. Stevens hits the strong chords, sounding even more like Tyner than he did at the top. Valery wails high, and then falls down the stairs in a great series of tumbles. Stevens’ solo is strong, with much of the mood from his opening riff. Siegel’s work is full, with plenty or cymbals – appropriately, he sounds like Elvin Jones. Ferguson is more in the sideman role than on the trio dates; he is felt as a force, but is not a dominant musical presence.
Ferguson takes a funk turn on Ornette’s “Lonely Woman”; Stevens is sparse and bitter, in keeping with the airy sound. As this is Ornette, Valery picks up the pocket trumpet; his tone is full, and more assertive than the opener. Stevens starts his solo quiet, then builds a pattern which keeps getting faster. The other instruments are silenced as Stevens keeps moving, up to the Cecil Taylor level. Then he stops, and all is quiet taps and the occasional pluck. Valery solos without the piano; now Siegel goes wild, and when Stevens returns, it adds depth to the sound. A little more fury, and it returns to the mood it came in on.
“Julie’s Tabouleh” opens on a carnival atmosphere, with a sunny theme; the opening is “Airegin”, and the chords are close to “Indiana”. Ferguson gets his first solo, a fancy thing with active fingers. Valery is a joy; he dances while the cymbals urge him on. Stevens is bluesy, slamming the keys to major effect. Siegel’s solo reminds me of Cozy Cole’s on “Topsy”, and the carnival returns.
The trumpet is one thing you notice; another is the quality of the original songs. Siegel’s “Blue Heart” has a great feel that recalls the early ‘Sixties. (Stevens, with a dash of Wynton Kelly, rules this number.) Ferguson’s efforts are fun, especially the closer, “You Wait Here”. A piano tune if there ever was one, Stevens runs wild, and Valery will not be ignored. He brings two tunes, and “For You Only” is wonderful. These are generally simple, tuneful frameworks for the players to stretch on. With this level of interplay, it’s all they need.
Valery reacts throughout: more than a “guest star”, he does many things to meld with the group sound. On “dedication”, he is mellow and busy, he wrings the vibrato on “For You Only”, is brassy on “Blues for Elena”, and mutes up a storm on “Angelica”. His approach varies with the frequency of Stevens’, which makes him perfect for the group. He really shines on his own “For You Only”, a soft ballad with singing trumpet and a creeping bass solo. While Valery had known these guys before this, it’s the first time he’s recorded with the trio. You’ll wish it came sooner.
While some tracks are adventurous (“Magical Spaces”, “Lonely Woman”), this is mostly straight-ahead swinging. Ponomarev is warm or hot as needed, Stevens impresses me as always, and the rapport is tremendous. It’s a loving look at the trio, and how they react in new surroundings. As you might expect, very well indeed.