Валентина Пономарева – Искушение [Valentina Ponomareva – Temptation]

Valentina Ponomareva - Temptation LP front cover
Valentina Ponomareva - Temptation LP back cover
Valentina Ponomareva - Temptation LP side 1

The daughter of a gypsy violinist and a professional pianist, singer Valentina Ponomareva was born in 1939 in Moscow. After studying vocal and piano, she performed with Soviet jazz bands during the 1960s. In the 1970s, she joined a Moscow gypsy theater named Romen Theater and became extremely successful and popular performing romantic gypsy songs and romances with the Romen Trio (see next post). In the 1980s and 90s, Ponomareva played with Russian avant-garde musicians, including free-jazz group Arkhangelsk, Serguey Kuryokhin of Popular Mechanics, Vladimir Chekasin of the Ganelin Trio, as well as with Boris Grebenshchikov’s Aquarium avant rock band. British record company Leo Records published her Fortune Teller LP in 1985, with which she gained a global recognition as a radical singer. At the end of the 1980s, Ponomareva recorded 4 LPs for state label Melodya: Intrusion (1988), At Parting, I’ll Tell You (1989), Temptation (1989) and Terra Incognita (1990). In the 1990s, she sang in The Goose, her trio with Tim Hodgkinson and Ken Hyder, and later formed a duo with Siberian singer Sainkho Namchylak. She also performed with John Zorn and Japanese free-jazz players. Make sure to visit Valentina’s incredible official website, complete with a foreword by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev from the Kremlin’s official website: “A wonderful singer with a beautiful voice and a wide range of creative possibilities, you have earned high professional recognition and a great love of the public”, says Medvedev.

On Temptation, Ponomareva teamed with radical Russian musicians, especially with drummers Victor Suslin of Astreya (see previous post), Nikolai Lgovsky (who played on the Vyacheslav Artyomov LP posted earlier) or Michail Yudenich of noise trio ZGA. The album is far from a barrage of drums, though, rather a homeopathic background of unusual, hand-held percussion, complementing Ponomareva’s surreal, otherworldly vocal explorations. The 1st track is a magnificent Valentina solo, scatting and improvising on a background of reverbed wordless vocals. On track #2, gongs and reverb-fuelled flexatone provide a mysterious, quasi Oriental setting for Valentina’s sighs and murmurs. No rhythm, no words, no melody, just pure exploratory atmospheric music. Saxophone enters on #3 in a playful duet with scat and onomatopoeia by Ponomareva, whose cute vocals at times recall Shelley Hirsch. The same unintrusive saxophone introduces #4, but echoed flute in the background slowly grows to the front, without detracting from the singer’s meanderings. The next track is about a mythological bird and, accordingly, the music gets even more surreal and intangible. The album ends with another Ponomareva solo, a minimalist wordless song with eerie sound effect on her voice, ending unnoticed, in a last voice pianissimo. At this point, you know you’ve been listening to a masterpiece.

01 Искушение – Temptation (10:32)
02 Полнолуние – Full Moon (8:56)
03 На третий день – On The Third Day (4:53)
04 Блики – Glare (4:05)
05 Птица печали – The Bird Of Sorrow (7:02)
06 Воспоминание – Memory (5:23)

Valentina Ponomareva, voice
Mark Pekarsky, Alexander Suvorov, Dmitry Lazarev,
Nikolai Lgovsky, Alexander Vinets, Michail Yudenich, percussion
Serguei Letov, saxophone, bass clarinet, reed, flute
Vladimir Lazerson, flute
Vladislav Makarov, cello

Total time 40:54
LP released by Melodya, USSR, 1989


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4 Responses to “Валентина Пономарева – Искушение [Valentina Ponomareva – Temptation]”

  1. 1 jim November 1, 2011 at 2:59 am

    wow. this is really special! thank you

    long years back i saw an episode of the BBC tv series, Comrades, treating with the work of Sergei Kuryokhin. Among other vividly memorable sequences, there was a long shot of he & a shock-haired collaborator clambering over their local rubbish tip, in search of “instruments”. well worth scaring up…

  2. 2 continuo November 1, 2011 at 5:00 am

    Kuryokhin was an amazing musician with, for instance, Popular Mechanics or Aquarium on the legendary Radio Africa LP where he plays synth. But Ponomareva is on a class of her own.
    There were 2 books in English on Russian mavericks (including Kuryokhin) by Soviet rock critic Artemy Troitsky retelling the strange story of independent rock/jazz/performance in Moscow. One was called Back in the USSR and the other Tusovka: Who’s Who in the New Soviet Rock Culture. They’re worth checking out, IMO.
    Thanks for your comment, Jim.

  3. 3 rob November 7, 2011 at 12:10 am

    in the uk, we have leo records to thank for a lot this kind of stuff getting out. the whole thing was very clandestine during the ’80’s… they even have a disclaimer on the back explaining that the people on the records have no knowledge of the release, just to keep them out of trouble. i heard of V.P because of her singing on anatoly vapirov’s ‘invocations’, which is an extraordinary l.p on leo. i did see a solo record of hers once on melodya, but didn’t have any cash on me, so i missed it…

  4. 4 continuo November 7, 2011 at 7:12 am

    There are indeed some legendary records on Leo Feigin’s records.
    Thanks for your comment, Rob.

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