The Sofferman Perspective

Boston Globe Top Ten CD List of 2002
The Boston based jazz drummer with a gift for melody leads a tight post-bop group in a wide range of pieces, employing odd time signatures and complex harmonic ideas. by Steve Greenlee

The Boston Globe - Jazz Notes Feature
The man and the melodies behind the "Green Between"

If the world were a fair place, more people would know about Brooke Sofferman's sophmore album, "The Green Between." Here's why: Were the album on a major label, the jazz world would be a buzz about it. But the recording is on the small Summit Records label, so it has to find it's own way into the world. Too bad, because it's all but assured a spot on this critic's 10 Best list for this year. The Boston-based drummer has come up with one of 2002's more adventurous mainstream jazz records, crafting fresh melodies while challenging his ensemble with jaunty rhythms and odd time signatures.

Slowly and in small doses, the jazz press is catching up with 29-year-old Sofferman. Rave reviews of "The Green Bewteen" have appeared or will appear in Jazz Times, Jazziz, and other publications. Boston will get it's best chance yet to hear Sofferman when he leads his group in a concert Thursday at Jordan Hall. It's his first time leading a group in a big hall. Two days later, he'll take his band to Portland for it's spot in the Key Maine Jazz Festival.

His music's appeal? It's the melody, stupid.

"The music that I write, generally I like to keep a strong meoldy, something that people catch on to," says Sofferman, who has just begun his thrid year teaching at the New England Conservatory, the school that awarded him his bachelor's and master's degrees. "No matter what kind of music you're playing, if you can't remember the melody.......Whether it's a pop song or a rock song or whatever, you need a melody."

Sofferman- who had his hands full during our conversation, taking care of his 21-month-old daughter, Zoe, at his Medfield home- is torn about whether he'd like to be picked up by a major label. "Obviously, I would love it if one of the companies wanted to do it, but it's just a huge and daunting thing to happen," he says. "You need a lawyer, a negotiator. It's maybe better to take your time. These people who come out right away as superstars, the next thing you know, they're gone."

His short term goal? "I'm just trying to get as many people to the Jordan Hall concert as possible." -by Steve Greenlee, Globe jazz critic

Jazz Times- November 2002
Young pups are supposed to take chances, so it's no surprise that Brooke Sofferman's sextet climbs onto the high wire without a safety net on The Green Between (Summit). Like many young drummers these days, Sofferman writes, arranges and produces, and he's assembled a group capable of fusing his tunes with the energy required. Tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi is the outstanding soloist here. His big, muscular sound is highlighted on the title track and the layered "Cut It Back to Half, Jack." Guitarist Norm Zocher plugs in and turns it up on the pounding "Cement Truck Blues," and bassist Thomson Kneeland plays triple stops and trades choruses with the leader on "Mt Desert Isle." There's also an ethereal, floating "Sunbird" and a wordless lullaby from Abby Aronson on "Zoe Moon." Sofferman's best playing occurs during "Crownestula," when he alternates between a 3/2 clave and straightahead 4/4. His drum solo on this song makes me wonder: Is it overdubbed or does this guy have as many arms as Vishnu? by Larry Appelbaum 52nd St. Jazz Review -

In the Northeastern part of the United States, drummer Brooke Sofferman has assembled and recorded a superlative group that no only understands, but also prefers, his eclectic approach to jazz.

An eclectic approach that involves unusual-metered statements, ballads of deeply personal meaning, a vibrant interchange of ideas before and in the midst of the performances, and mixtures of Latin and conventional rhythms for a combined effect that matches the vision of the composer, Sofferman himself, rather than referring strictly to this genre of music or that.

Sofferman has chosen his partners in improvisation wisely. While many listeners have been impressed for years with Jerry Bergonzi's adventurous tenor sax work, as well as his infinitely adaptable tone, those same listeners would be just as impressed with, for example, lesser-known-on-a-national-basis pianist Jacques Chanier. And then there's bassist Thomson Kneeland, who is as comfortable--or maybe more so--in unconventional meters or setting up a multi-cultural musical experience as he is in walking his bass.

In other words, these are musicians who should be known beyond their region of residence. When it came time to market Sofferman's recording, he went to Summit Records, way out West in Phoenix, which has its own means of marketing and promotion. And thus more of the jazz world at large may be hearing about Sofferman's sound. As well it should.

With a variety of statements to develop and explore, Sofferman exceeds the usual 60 minutes of jazz CD content through an abundance of music that virtually overflows as it organically moves through the compositions' streams of ideas. While "Across The Crebix" takes the listener from a rubato 2-part melody of ominous potential and then into a lightly attacked referenced to hard bop, the piece finally settles down into slight suggestions of reggae under the eventual solos. "Crownestula" adopts a charging rhumba theme that alternates between 4-bar pattern ending with a stuttered 2-note exclamation and a solid fast-walking section in the bridge, Bergonzi taking the rhythm and running with it. Unexpectedly, the tune ends with Sofferman's drum solo, as if a street march were winding down because the paraders were starting to break up.

Sofferman being a drummer, he is interested in percussiveness as the fundamental basis for his tunes, and in melodies and harmonies providing layers of elaboration over the rhythms closely aligned to the human pulse. But arrhythmia happens. And so, he has experimented with meters, varying them within a single tune like "The Green Between," which starts with a 5/4 theme of unpredictable modulations but then shifts into a more straight-forward gear for contrast. "Barefoot" follows the same outline, its initial patterns of 11 beats alternating with a more conventional pattern of 4, but with one difference: a penultimate free section during which things loosen up for individual expression unfettered by meter.

And then there are Sofferman's ballads, so close to his own family events. One of them, "So It Began," was sung at his wedding, and the lyrics are reprinted in the liner notes. Subdued and flowing, guitarist Norm Zocher crafts an appealing introduction, as well as a gorgeous accompaniment behind vocalist Abby Aronson's singing. "Sunbird," written for Sofferman's wife, features Chanier instead, and yet the mood is still tentative and meditative, allowing Bergonzi and trumpeter Phil Grenadier to reveal the haunting melody in golden tones reminiscent of a Wayne Shorter composition.

In spite of the diversity of themes contained within the space of the CD's 72 minutes, its cohesion results from the imagination of Brooke Sofferman, whose curiosity and musical journey lead to some superb compositions cogently expressed. by Don Williamson

LA Jazz Scene
Drummer Brooke Sofferman leads a very impressive postbop sextet on this CD, which was recorded in Westwood, Massachusetts. Easily the best-known sideman is tenor-saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, a powerful improviser who built his style out of the influence of John Coltrane. However the other players, trumperter Phil Grenadier, guitarist Norm Zocher, pianist Jacques Chanier and bassist Thomson Kneeland, also prove to be top-notch musicians who listen closely to each other, reacting almost instantly to any surprise directions in the music.

The 11 Sofferman originals range from heated to melancholy, passionate to lyrical. Complex time signatuers are utilized on a few songs yet the musicians always sound relaxed and quite willing to take chances, even when the music is potentially dangerous. Among the more notable performances is the thoughtful "Sunbird," a feature for the piano trio (Mt. Desert Isle), the medium-tempo "Cement Truck Blues" (a good showcase for Bergonzi), the haunting "Zoe Moon" (one of to numbers that have the haunting voice of Abby Aronson) and "Cut It Back to Half, Jack" which has Grenadier, Bergonzi and Zocher soloing over Sofferman's drums (without piano or bass accompaniment).

This is the kind of music that rewards repeated listenings, for there is a lot to discover. An excellent set of modern jazz, available from Summit. ( by Scott Yanow

Modern Drummer - December 2002
My crystal ball names Brooke Sofferman as one of the rising young indie jazzers to watch. On his second outing, the drummer/ composer/ leader delivers an upbeat sound, more focused than on his previous disc. Sofferman's acoustic ensembles are at ease here, having fun playing his concise, clever tunes. As always, star Boston tenor man Jerry Bergonzi unreels rich solos. The drummer's crisp, popping touch and high-tuned drums reflect the sunny positivism of his writing. Mixing a myriad of grooves, from straight ahead to a splash of reggae, Sofferman's hungry enthusiasm shines. Place future bets that the buzz will grow. by Jeff Potter

Percussive Arts Society - October 2002
Drummer/ leader Brooke Sofferman desribes this post-bop jazz recording as "a musical adventure that explores dozens of ever-morphing grooves and influences, while still maintaining a cohesive, singable statement." That about sums up "The Green Between." He left out the part about great performances by himself and tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi; intricate, yet adventurous composing and soloing; and a fresh overall musical picture that emotes joy and exuberance.

The CD features all original compositions by Sofferman, and he solos on almost every tune. All of the musicians turn in spirited, powerful solos and tight ensemble performances. Sofferman's own flowing, interactive style simotaneously engages the soloist and supports the music. His solos are technical, but also melodic and musical, with an attention to sonic nuance that separates him from the pack. He takes a slightly different approach to each tune- a sure sign of musical maturity. by Terry O'Mahoney

Jazziz - September 2002
This album picks up where Sofferman's lauded debut (1999's Modesty's Odyssey) left off. But the Green Between is a more rewarding album- not beacuse of any significant changes is his arrangements or technique, but thanks to an augmented line-up that gives Sofferman's intricate time signatures a roomier and more satisfying development. Recent additions Phil Greandier (on trumpet) and Jacques Chanier (on piano) regularly serve as spotlighted performers. Vocalist Abby Aronson provides two of the most delicate moments on the album: "Zoe Moon" and the delightful "So It Began." And although bassist Thomson Kneeland isn't offered a showcase on the order of "Now" from Modesty's Odyssey, his sturdy fingerwork is indispensable and often the very root of the album's rhythmic patterns.

Surprisingly, Sofferman's own drumming and percussive work takes a backseat. His solos are brief if uniformly solid- and so infrequent as to be counted on one hand. His real contribution to the Green Between lies in the album's complex rhythms and odd time signatures. The opening title track, beginning as a relatively straightforward 5/8, post-bebop workout, soon devolves into free interplay between Jerry Bergonzi's saxophone and Norm Zocher's guitar. Throughout, Sofferman keeps the rhythm and thereby anchors the piece.

The best moments here- "Phlegm & Yawn," the Caribbean-tinged "Across the Crebix," and the full group showcase "Cut It Back to Half, Jack"- are very good indeed and invariably result from the band taking crucial rhythmic and melodic chances. A less audacious ensmble might have cleaved to safer tempos or spiraled into entirely free improvisations. by Eric Waggoner

All About Jazz Artist Profile
Brooke Sofferman's latest CD, The Green Between, was just released by Summit Records on March 5, 2002. Summit Records is an internationally renowned label and is distributed world-wide by Allegro Music, one of the top jazz distributors in the business. Brooke is joined by Jerry Bergonzi on tenor, along with trumpeter Phil Grenadier, guitarist Norm Zocher, pianist Jacques Chanier, bassist Thomson Kneeland, and special guest vocalist on two tracks, Abby Aronson.

Drummer / composer Brooke Sofferman has earned hoards of praise from both musicians and critics alike, for his debut album, Modesty's Odyssey. It also featured tenor giant, Jerry Bergonzi, performing all original Sofferman compositions.

"Highlights abound and no two cleverly-titled tunes sound alike....Sofferman's wide-ranging traps work, makes the rhythm section sizzle with thrust and vigor. Synergistic, suave artistry from everyone adds to this A-plus session." - Jazz Times, May 2000

"A promising debut by gifted drummer Brooke Sofferman, this is a disc of free-wheeling, accessible modern jazz, in an intriguing melange of styles....Sofferman's style is deft and contemporary; his compositions largely witty and involving." - Boston Globe, CD Pick of the Week, June 1, 2000.

At the New England Conservatory of music, where he attained his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Jazz Performance, Brooke's studies with jazz legends George Russell, Bob Moses, Danilo Perez, Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, Cecil McBee, John Abercrombie, Fred Buda (Boston Pops) and John McNeil were vital to his development as a drummer and composer. Brooke attended NEC on scholarship and led the NEC Honors Jazz Quintet, which featured performances at Boston's finest concert halls.

Brooke is now on the faculty of NEC, where he teaches ensembles and private lessons, along with his extensive private teaching schedule.

Brooke continues to perform around New England, New York and the East coast with many of the top tier jazz musicians, such as Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, Bruce Gertz, John Lockwood and Bevan Manson to name a few. Aside from performing live with his group and as a sideman, he has been on over a dozen recordings in the past year.

All About Jazz #1
What a swinging affair!

Brooke Sofferman's sextet makes this sequel to his Modesty's Odyssey smoke from start to finish. Using the same personnel and adding a few key players, drummer Sofferman has created another outstanding album. Once again, his compositions serve as the basis for intriguing improvisation. A variety of textures from the drum set color each selection. Jerry Bergonzi, Phil Grenadier and Jacques Chanier add significant charm. No smooth jazz here. Sofferman elevates the art of jazz and carries on the tradition. Based in and around Boston, the drummer/composer holds degrees in jazz performance from the New England Conservatory of Music.

Sofferman uses different instrumentations to express the program's selections. "Mt. Desert Isle" turns out intimate and sensual, as it's presented by a cohesive piano trio. "Phlegm & Yawn" places the entire sextet in a position to face the day, with its powerful, driving cadence and roiling jazz breezes. Storming with a confident air, Sofferman's ensemble whips up a refreshing surprise. Abby Aronson's wordless vocals add an interesting quality. They're on target, musically, and yet, as free as a bird. It takes a looseness like that to find the difference between swinging improvisation and lesser attempts. Her treatment of the lyrics to "So It Began" provides a deep look at the song's contextual meaning, but it's Aronson's role as wordless vocal participant that makes the largest impact. Her voice is transformed into an additional instrument for the stellar ensemble.

Sofferman's session swings with a genuine spirit. The hook is his creative use of odd meters. Highly recommended, this one goes right to the top of this year's Top Ten list. by Jim Santella

All About Jazz #2
Brooke Sofferman second album as a leader, and first for the Arizona-based Summit record label, deals strictly with the compositions of the drummer/leader. Showing significant compositional awareness, the tunes cut a wide swathe of rhythmic and harmonic invention, including reggae, blues, swing and ballad. The latter musical species is well represented by a lovely, pensive "Sunbird".

The contributions to this session by Sofferman's playmates, especially tenor sax man Jerry Bergonzi and Phil Grenadier's trumpet, are well documented on this track. Both in solo state and in interaction with each other, this duo casts a wide net of musicality with this piece which well could be the musical theme for a film noire. The artistry of singer Abby Aronson, who appears on two tracks, and guitarist Norm Zocher, is brought to bear on another ballad with somewhat more tension, "So It Began". This track also features compelling call and response between Aronson's wordless vocalizing and Bergonzi's tenor, creating a tingling of the spine effect.

The title tune, "The Green Between" is a swinging reggae highlighted by swirling ensemble playing driven by Sofferman's drums. Bergonzi forsakes the warm tone employed on the ballads for a crisp, biting attack on this cut. The rather strangely named "Phlegm & Yawn" opens, as so many of these contemporary tunes do, with the players sounding as if they're warming up, before kicking into an up tempo romp with creative modern jazz overtones. There's good interaction between Zocher and the piano of Jacques Chanier before Bergonzi leads everyone into the land of dissonance.

Irrespective of what's coming out of the speakers at any given point on this CD, it's clear that Sofferman is dedicated to the principle that the melody's the thing, maintaining this philosophical position throughout the 72 minute session. It's all fine stuff and recommended. Visit Brooke at -by Dave Nathan

All Music Guide
Drummer Brooke Sofferman's 1999 debut, Modesty's Odyssey, garnered him many plaudits as a promising up-and-comer in the world of adventurous post-bop. The Green Between does nothing if not reinforce this sentiment. This time augmenting his group from 1999 with pianist Jacques Chanier and trumpeter Phil Grenadier, Sofferman has achieved an even more lush sound. His compositions epitomize the aesthetics of the post-bop school: odd time signatures, complex harmonic structures, and muscular, intellectualized playing that borders on the avant-garde. Strikingly though, Sofferman avoids the most common pitfall of this genre, whereby melody is sacrificed for harmony. His themes are hummable and often paired with characteristically oddball rhythms, such as the reggae-infused "Across the Crebix" or the funky, Ornette Coleman-like rhumba of "Crownestula." Truly a group of Bostonians, most if not all of Sofferman's cohorts teach at either Berklee or the New England Conservatory. Consequently, the soloing is first-rate thrill-seeking exemplified by tenor sax legend Jerry Bergonzi, whose brawny playing adds depth to a truly well-balanced group. Standout Grenadier has a slippery, fuzzy tone and swinging approach that references both the colossal lines of Freddie Hubbard and ornithological creativity of Lester Bowie. As for Sofferman himself, he displays a knack for lithe grooves and propulsive, modern swing. Not quite as busy as other post-Elvin Jones drummers, he nonetheless expresses a stream of consciousness in his playing, bending his swing to his funk with a loose panache. -Matt Collar

Beyond Coltrane
I have discovered it! The greatest Summit release of all time. Am I wrong? I don't know, but of all the Summit releases that I have recieved for review, let me tell you that this is the first one that entered my CD player and did not leave it for days. Of course, the reason for greatness is not Summit but Brooke Sofferman's brainstorm group, which is a sextet of tenor, trumpet, guitar, piano, bass and drums. Brooke hits the skins and his special guest is tenor Jerry Bergonzi. The group is exquisite, complex post-modern jazz that flows and cascades through almost every style imaginable. When the group hits the fifth piece, a tune titled "Phlegm & Yawn" it transcends into absolute perfection. The progressive rhythm line for this piece demonstrates the competence and understanding of all involved. They know the history of music: what works and what can work when placed in the correct context. The album hits a high note that does not end.

Two tracks are with vocals, which make me apprehensive, but the ethereal, wordless vocals by Abby Aranson on the first of the two tracks, "Zoe Moon", lulls me into an absolute peace. The next track, the instrumental "Crownestula", explodes on the scene with such modern power that there's no looking back. "Across the Crebix" goes into post-bop Miles territory, which is always cathartic. By the time we get to the second vocal piece, the lyrical "So It Began", we are well into the most artistic of art-jazz, and the piece does not offend. In fact, it fits perfectly. It should go there. Finally, the closer, "Barefoot", utilizing another ostinato, ends the disc with classic elegance. This is a jazz album for the ages, and it pleases me to know that today's musicians can pull together something experimental yet with tradtional form like this. Get it. by Fred Barrett

Blues On Stage -July 2002
"Jazz drummer Brooke Sofferman's latest release "The Green Between," is a strong follow up to his debut "Modesty's Odyssey," with the same core musicians, featuring Tenor Sax veteran Jerry Bergonzi. The ensemble work here is powerful and adventuresome with each player pushing the music forward and all carrying their own weight, leaving no weak spots.

The title track leads off with guitarist Norm Zocher's urgent chords setting a frantic pace. Once a strong melody structure has been laid down, Bergnozi wastes none of the opening energy blowing hard right out of the gate. Zocher follows with fluid fretwork that spirals into Sofferman's break neck drum solo. By the time calm, and melody, have been restored it becomes apparent that these gents can swing and ring it, setting high expectations for what's to follow.

What follows is diversity. In a fit of programming genius, the trio piece "Mt. Desert Isle" is next. Thomson Kneeland's ominous bass lines dissolve into fluidity allowing the articulate piano work of Jacques Chanier to seize the lead. Sofferman's brushes dance a lyrical counterpoint to the solid bass structure creating a memorable foray into the intimate trio communication.

Other highlights include the reggae meets swing of "Across the Crebix" and Abby Aronson's ethereal scatting on "Zoe Moon." Throughout, Trumpeter Phil Grenadier serves as the horn's solid backbone. He steps up to trade off with Bergonzi on "Phlegm and Yawn" and shows formidable chops when the opportunity arises. "Barefoot" closes out the set in a somewhat more subdued and intricate manner than the title track started things, yet still displays Sofferman and his group's ability to explore varying harmonic and rhythmic interaction without losing hold of the groove. This is a choice set of ensemble Jazz that, while it might take repeated listening to fully appreciate, is well worth seeking out. -- by Bill Halaszynski

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One Stone | Two Birds
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