The Sofferman Perspective

The Boston Globe "CD Pick of the Week," 6/1/00 Brooke Sofferman-Modesty's Odyssey
-A promising debut by drummer Brooke Sofferman, this is a disc of free-wheeling, accessible modern jazz, and an intriguing melange of styles. Sparked by the wiry sax of Jerry Bergonzi, Sofferman explores odd time signatures (the prickly "Beef Ellington," the quirkier "Shaodare"), unorthodox voicings ("Dry Season," an austere, pretty tune featuring vocalist Abby Aronson), and dry funk ("Now," a showcase for bassist Thomson Kneeland). Not all the experiments work: "Autumn's Lullabye" skirts the maudlin, and "I Hear Mousie" is generic post-bop. Nevertheless, as the many food-releated titles indicate, there's meat here: Sofferman circles the beat with zest; Bergonzi works his lines hard; and guitarist Norm Zocher, when he strays from John Scofield's shadow, is a liquid improviser. This Boston-heavy CD comes replete with influences: Sofferman acknowledges his debt to Dave Holland and Wayne Shorter: and Bergonzi's tone evokes Coltrane. Sofferman's style is deft and contemporary; his compositions largely witty and involving. -Carlo Wolff

The Boston Sunday Herald- 1/23/00 Brooke Sofferman-Modesty's Odyssey
-Boston-based jazz drummer Brooke Sofferman makes an arresting debut as a leader with "Modesty's Odyssey," a CD that is less a typical drummer's date than a fully realized ensemble outing. In part, this is a tribute to Sofferman's wisdom in choosing an all-star local supporting cast--including phenomenal tenor-sax player Jerry Bergonzi, guitarist Norm Zocher, singer Abby Aronson and bassist Thomson Kneeland--that isn't content to sit back and enjoy the ride. Instead, his bandmates goad and inspire him measure for measure. Not that Sofferman is in need of inspiration. His compositions and arrangements, full of odd times and unusual harmonies, are rangy and spacious in a manner reminiscent of classic ECM jazz recordings. Although he is a resourceful drummer of considerable power, his primary weapons are taste and restaint. Those qualities help make "Modesty's Odyssey" an intriguing, eminently listenable debut. -Kevin R. Convey

Jazz Times- 5/00 Brooke Sofferman-Modesty's Odyssey
-A veteran drummer trained in Jazz Performance at New England Conservatory, Brooke Sofferman contributes 12 beguiling originals that pack plenty of emotionality into this robust, modern session craftily navigated by his cohorts. Highlights abound and no two cleverly titled tunes sound alike. When saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi or guitarist Norm Zocher team up with vocalist Abby Aronson, they yield exhilarating meanderings (especially notable on the fast-paced "Steak & Eggs"). Acoustic bassist Thomson Kneeland locks well with Sofferman's wide-ranging traps work, which makes the rhythm section sizzle with thrust and vigor. Synergistic, suave artistry from everyone adds to this A-plus session. -Nancy Ann Lee

Modern Drummer- 5/00 Brooke Sofferman-Modesty's Odyssey
-Brooke Sofferman is a bright new face from Boston's jazz scene. The drummer/leader/composer's indie debut, Modesty's Odyssey, showcases his colorful, creative kit work with a quartet boasting Boston tenor-titan Jerry Bergonzi, guitarist Norm Zocher, bassist Thomson Kneeland and vocalist Abby Aronson. The ensemble sounds fresh, and Sofferman's unpredictable tunes make exciting, unpretentious use of odd meters. -Chris Porter

CDNow- 2/24/00 Brooke Sofferman-Modesty's Odyssey
-Drummer and composer Brooke Sofferman teams up with saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi and bassist Thomson Kneeland, along with vocalist Abigail Aronson and guitarist Norman Zocher (of the Abby & Norm Group). With revealing liner notes provided by renowned guitarist John Abercrombie, Modesty's Odyssey is an example of how modern jazz continues to avoid gathering moss. This debut rolls along in a Wayne Shorter / Dave Holland-styled vein, giving up something a little different in each song. The humorous and intense "Beef Ellington" begins the album, with it's tricky time changes and snappy solos. "Dry Season" is a mellow bossa with the fluid vocals of Aronson, and the sinuous travels of "I Hear Mousie" flummoxed even Abercrombie. "I'm Sorry Blues" actually cheers a body through nimble fretwork, and Aronson's seamless vocalese in "Steak & Eggs" will have you sated. Bergonzi continues to impress, even when in the traditional ballad mode of the title track. "Wouberfish" is every bit as hip as it reads, and you'll feel your corpuscles frolicking as sax and guitar playfully duel. The energetic album-ender, "Almost There, " alludes to the many more trips Sofferman and friends will hopefully take. -Stacy Meyn

Percussive Arts Society- 5/8/00 Brooke Sofferman-Modesty's Odyssey
-Drummer / composer / leader Brooke Sofferman offers up a modern jazz quintet recording full of interesting compositional and improvisational approaches. Featured soloist Jerry Bergonzi (sax) joins Norm Zocher (guitar), Thomson Kneeland (bass), Abby Aronson (vocals), and Sofferman (drums) to create a flexible, swinging ensemble that stretches some musical boundaries. Most of the tunes swing--but frequently not in good ol' 4/4 time. "Beef Ellington" and "Shaodare" begin in 7/4 and "I Hear Mousie" features the leader soloing in 11/4! It's great--it works! All of the participants are featured in solo spots and sound great. Sofferman uses some interesting approaches to song construction--quirky, angular melodies, odd meters, loosening of adherence to barlines as metric guideposts, playing the melody in one meter at the beginning of a tune and in a completely different meter at the end of the tune, etc. These elements add freshness that is not often found on many recordings. Sofferman takes several solos and one can hear influences of many players in his sound--most notably Tony Williams and Bob Moses. Not ones to be pigeonholed, the group also plays some ballads, several triple-meter tunes, and a cool jazz-inspired bossa nova. Modesty's Odyssey covers a lot of ground but all of it is interesting territory. -Terry O'Mahoney

All Music Guide- 2/00 Brooke Sofferman-Modesty's Odyssey
-Drummer Sofferman's debut release puts him squarely into the the modernist mainstream of jazz, with some derivations, and in a restless rhythmic spirit as well. Many different meters crop up here and there, sometimes running up against each other to dazzling effect. It's music that merits close attention and a second or third listen to fully enjoy; it's well worth the effort. Fellow Bostonians, guitarist Norm Zocher and bassist Thomson Kneeland join the leader for this one-day session, as does the renowned tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. Vocalist Abby Aronson sings beautifully on three tracks. All 12 of the compositions are Sofferman originals, and they're very substantive. Most interesting are the shifting meters of seven, nine, and six beats per measure which inform "Beef Ellington"--neatly arranged and a bit quirky--and the seven-to-four time shift of "Shaodare" with Zocher's steely solo and Bergonzi's bop flavored improvs. Sofferman swings and solos well on this fun tune. Liners author John Abercrombie cites "I Hear Mousie" as "ridiculous," and it is that, in it's virtuoso make-up. It sees the melody line is a scurrying mouse that you can never catch up with; it's a complicated beast for sure. On "I'm Sorry Blues, " abrief bop head leads to Sofferman's drums freely tossing hissy-fit fragments of percussion left and right. The CD also ends with the boppish "Wouberfish" and the harder swinging "Almost There," which act as blowing vehicles that allow the foursome to let everything hang out. Aronson's triad has her absolutely flying with Bergonzi on "Steak & Eggs" in vocalese style, sweetly voiced on the samba "Dry Season, " and singing a wordless siren's song during the rubato waltz "Autumn's Lullabye." Aronson is precious; one would like to hear a CD's worth of both her fine scatting and her bass playing, the latter of which is absent on this disc. More pensive is the darker bass vamp set up for thee under-the-surface "Now" with roaring drums and juggernaut tendencies from the Gonz. The beautiful title cut is a ballad with bluesy flourishes, and the waltz-to-bop, tenor-led "Lovesick Vagabond" features Sofferman's expertise on brushes coming directly to the forefront. This is quite an impressive debut effort, and bodes well for Sofferman's future as a leader, composer, and excellent drum navigator. Recommended with no reservation. -Michael G. Nastos

All About Jazz 2/00 (1)Brooke Sofferman-Modesty's Odyssey
I've always thought of jazz in terms of Major League Baseball. You have your major labels, Verve, Blue Note, Warner Bros., and Sony, that record the huge stars, usually late in their careers. Hard core fans scout the minor league, small independent labels that develop the talent of a jazz artist, the Black Saints, Riversides, and Criss Crosses of this world. Today we all dig Joe Lovano's Blue Note recordings, voting him as a top saxophonist every year, but check out the music from his lesser-known Soul Note releases of the 1980's. This farm system serves jazz well, if you bought 10 discs a year they could be from the majors. A hundred disc buyer was well served to scout the minors. The baseball analogy seems to fail in light of today's mega-mergers, DAT recording technology and the internet. The majors are still the majors, even if they soon are to number only 2 or 3 companies. But I think the minors are getting squeezed by do-it-yourself musicians who can record high quality sessions and market it themselves. These truly independent labels, like Tim Berne's Screwgun records, bear few of the overhead costs the majors, or for that matter the minors endure. Few copies have to be sold to turn a profit. This may prove to be the beginning of the end for minor labels, and a concern for jazz fans who could count on Gerry Teekens of Criss Cross to develop the next jazz "stars." Fans are going to have to choose wisely, and I think sampling discs via the internet will allow them to separate the good from the bad. Let me help the DIY cause by endorsing the self-produced recording by composer and drummer Brooke Sofferman. The New England Conservatory trained musician can be heard on recordings by Steve Kirby, Ed Harlow, and another excellent self-produced disc The Book Of Norm by Berklee College of Music teachers Abby Aronson & Norm Zocher. They play a large part on this recording as does perennial minor league all-star saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, a faculty member of NEC. Sofferman's compositions and arrangements display maturity beyond his baby-faced album cover, which remind me of Matt Wilson, another Boston trained drumming up-and-comer. His varied approach to composition showcases more time changes than CNN did on New Years eve. From flat out burners a la Joe Lovano/John Scofield to "Dry Season," which could easily be the title track for the next James Bond movie with Abby courting us with sultry bossa nova lyrics, Sofferman displays a light touch on the skins and cymbals bringing drummer Bill Stewart to mind. "Almost There" begins as a hard bop burner worthy of Sonny Rollins, then time slows, and Bergonzi and Sofferman play hide-n-seek with rhythm and tone. There are plenty of gems on this self-produced coming out party. Sofferman might just skip the minor leagues and go straight to "the show." -Mark Corroto

All About Jazz (2) 2/00 Brooke Sofferman-Modesty's Odyssey
Drummer Brooke Sofferman has all the right stuff. His self-produced debut album shows that from its very start. This highly recommended quintet session features Sofferman's loose modern mainstream compositions and an ensemble that permits each artist to express freely without falling into traditional roles. Bassist Thomson Kneeland solos lyrically and with a fluid technique. Guitarist Norm Zocher comps as needed and stretches out often. His superimposed harmonic interaction with saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi drives the ensemble with deliberation; particularly on "Shaodare." I could listen to Bergonzi all year long. To get an idea yourself, there's a substantial audio sample from this album at Sofferman's web page. The composer employs odd meters, polyrhythms and changing meters to express his intended message. The result is quite refreshing and full of tricky surprises. Abby Aronson's crystal clear vocal phrases make a welcome addition to the ensemble as she interprets lyrics thoughtfully, scat sings with moody abandon, and inserts vocalese energy in tandem with Bergonzi's tenor sax passion. Sofferman's creative ideas, applied talent, and his ensemble's free spirit have produced a winner. -Jim Santella Guitar Album Reviews Brooke Sofferman - Modesty's Odyssey
-Every once in a while, I'll be asked to review a CD that I immediately know will "enter into rotation" on my home stereo system. It's finding these CD's, and learning about these artists that make the reviewing process so worthwhile to me. Drummer Brooke Sofferman's Modesty's Odyssey is one of these recordings... Sofferman's debut CD is a pleasurable listen, from beginning to end. For despite the intricacy of much of the music on Modesty's Odyssey, the mood remains light throughout. It is easy to hear that the musicians are enjoying themselves, which translates into great performances. The music on Modesty's Odyssey is actually much more complex than it first appears, which speaks volumes about the sophistication and maturity of Sofferman's writing. Many tracks involve varying time signatures and form, yet due to strong melodies and coherent chord structures, remain surprisingly accessible. The personnel of the CD are first-rate, and contribute strongly to Sofferman's vision. The inclusion of a vocalist, the remarkable Abby Aronson, is both a surprise and a delight. Aronson proves her worthiness almost immediately with a lovely interpretation of Sofferman's atmospheric bossa nova "Dry Season". The singer even contributes a (carefully) scatted solo over the harmonically tricky tune. Guitarist Norm Zocher adds his versatile touch to many of the compositions on Modesty's Odyssey. At times, as on a highly inspired free-blowing solo on "I'm Sorry Blues", Zocher sounds positively ingenious. On the infectious "Shaodare" (a tune that offers a tip of the hat to the John Scofield/Joe Lovano collaborations) Zocher shows us his best "Sco", smattering the tune with broken phrases and chord fragments. Zocher's playing at other times rather strongly recalls both John Abercrombie and Pat Metheny. If he sounds a little faceless during a few moments on Modesty's Odyssey, Norm Zocher still brings an aggressive energy to the recording. Recruiting the much heralded saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi for the recording date was clearly a wise choice. Bergonzi adds his signature raw muscle to the CD, tearing his way through the metrically confusing "Beef Ellington". At other times, though, as on the gentle "Autumn's Lullaby", Bergonzi shows admirable restraint (as guitarist John Abercrombie, who penned the liner notes for the CD, quipped "Jerry sounds so good on this, that I think the word Gonzian should be added to the jazz-vocab"). Brooke Sofferman's own musical contributions to the recording are noteworthy. While clearly a gifted writer, Sofferman certainly doesn't play "composer's drums". He plays with impressive intensity, even during some of the CD's quietest moments. Sofferman is a highly interactive drummer; implying varying feels over already difficult song structures, setting up rythmic false cadences, and generally creating a very stimulating musical environment within which the soloists can push themselves. Modesty's Odyssey is a real treat for fans of progressive jazz music with strong melodic ties. Be on the lookout for more great things to come from Brooke Sofferman, both the drummer and songwriter. -Dan Cross

52nd St. Jazz Review 2000 Brooke Sofferman- Modesty's Odyssey
I worry about CDs that use the guy who wrote the liner notes as a marketing point. I worry even more when that writer wasn't even involved in the CD's production. So, of course, I worried about Modesty's Odyssey, the debut release by drummer Brooke Sofferman. Right there on the corner, bottom left, in bold lettering: "Liner notes by John Abercrombie." And again in the PR material that accompanied the CD--several times, in fact. John Abercrombie, a fine guitarist in his own right, does not play a note on Modesty's Odyssey. But if the liners are so integral to this release, so be it. They're fair game. I feel that, though Abercrombie treats the music sensitively in print, with just enough on the technical side, he's got to do something about those long, convoluted paragraphs. Oh, all right. The music. Sofferman's got strong writing chops. Although Modesty's Odyssey tends heavily toward bright bop, save "Autumn's Lullaby" (with voice and tenor swooning nicely through the melody) and a somewhat treacly title cut, the leader has a knack for hip heads. "Shaodare" might be the best of the bunch, with a galloping 7/4 melody (as with many drummer-led sessions, the 'hooks' here often rely on toying with meter) a very hip solo from tenorman Jerry Bergonzi. Likewise for "I'm Sorry Blues," a loose number with guitarist Norm Zocher (half of the duo 'Abby & Norm'; Abby Aronson guests on three tracks here) unshackled and flying. Zocher's brief chase sequence with Bergonzi also lightens "Shaodare" up nicely. Sofferman's a hustling drummer, not unnecessarily ornate, but busy when he needs to be. (Hear his snappy snare work on "Beef Ellington" to open the set.) As a lyricist, well... his words, though forgettable, suit Aronson's clean enunciation well enough on the bossa "Dry Season." A vocalese-styled "Steak & Eggs" fares a little better, though it might be that the interplay between Aronson and Bergonzi is just enough to distract us. You have to give Sofferman credit, though. Modesty's Odyssey is tight. He wisely showcases quite a creditable number of strong tunes rather than giving us fifteen-minute, show-offy nonsense, and the record winds up being quite a calling card. But don't take my word for it--there's a fella named John Abercrombie who seems to think so too... Jeff Morris

Blues On Stage 7/00 Brooke Sofferman- Modesty's Odyssey
A debut Modern Jazz album from Brooke Sofferman, "Modesty's Odyssey" is an accessible album that covers a lot of ground from up-tempo instrumentals to cool complex lyrical songs. The five-piece combo combines Sofferman on drums, Norm Zocher on guitar, Thomson Kneeland on bass and the renowned Jerry Bergonzi on sax, with Abby Aronson's voice. Each is a highly competent technician in their playing, but each also has that something extra that lifts the music to a higher plane. The album gets underway with the upbeat, on edge "Beef Wellington," which along with "Shaodare" explores some interesting and unusual rhythms and time signatures. Both tracks feature good work by all the band with some particularly fine sax playing by Bergonzi. The time changes in "Beef Wellington" are so well handled that it takes a moment to realize what has happened. Between these two tracks is "Dry Season" the first vocal track on the album, a lovely tune with lovely lean vocals underpinned by some great percussion work, it reminds me of China Crisis in one of their quieter jazzier phases. The mid-part of the album includes the gentle "Autumn Lullaby" a song that successfully avoids becoming mawkish, and features some fine work by Abby Aronson who uses her voice as an instrument seamlessly complementing the rest of the ensemble. "I'm Sorry Blues" is an impressive darker more moody piece with more exemplary Bergonzi sax. "Steak and Eggs" the final vocal track on the album is a fast moving song, with nice interplay between the sax and vocals. It is immediately followed by the title track, a slower languid instrumental, in which Bergonzi leads the way with fine solo playing, taken on by Kneeland's bass, and all held together by Sofferman's fine percussion work. The album is a good debut from Sofferman, who penned all twelve tracks, it has great strength of playing. It shows influences from many sources (I suspect Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Brubeck amongst others?) but it adds a certain element of "Fin de Siecle" innovation. I enjoyed reviewing this Post-Modern Jazz album, I recommend it to anyone seeking some good new music, and I look forward to the next offering from this combo. I will also be interested to see how Brooke Sofferman's music develops over the coming years.

The Scanner On-Line Newspaper- Arts& Entertainment-Brooke Sofferman-Modesty's Odyssey
Take a very hip rhythm section, add saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, the only familiar name here, and we have a band that leaves us thirsting for more. The leader, drummer Brooke Sofferman, is into quirky but delightful time changes. Guitarist Norm Zocher, obviously influenced by John Scofield, is a major contributor to everything that is good, even when backing singer Abby Aronson tries too hard. On "I'm Sorry Blues," he solos impressively, then fades, allowing a free Bergonzi to take off. Sofferman and bassist Thomson Kneeland, who has an aura of greatness around his playing, should remain tight as there exists a very apparent superb and rare chemistry between them.

Phoenix New Times 3/02/2000 Brooke Sofferman- Modesty's Odyssey
Modesty's Odyssey (Yobo) by Boston-area percussionist Brooke Sofferman is a hard-core, shut-up-'n'-listen jazz outing featuring damn near slobbery liner notes by John Abercrombie as well as the playing of saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, whom Michael Brecker considers to be the greatest tenor player alive. -Dave McElfresh

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