Brooke Sofferman, a former student of John Abercrombie's, is an 'emerging' tour-de-force in neo-bop jazz. As you will sense immediately when you spin Fine Whines, he loves to stretch and push on the notion of time in his jazz playing. You'll encounter all kinds of meters, from conventional 4/4 to 6/4, 7/4, 5/4, and even 10/4. What all that means is the rhythmic center of the tunes is constantly shifting and surprising.
Sofferman matches his erudite playing with impressive academic credentials: he attended the world-famous New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) on a scholarship and earned both a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Jazz Performance. Top colleges and universities around the world are known for stretching their students to think harder and deeper. From the sound of Sofferman's playing, it seems NEC has accomplished that same goal with respect to his playing; he is often laying down complex patterns and textures that reflect a certain gravitas of rhythmic thinking. NEC was obviously good to him; he's now a faculty member.
But this music is not meant as a museum piece, to be observed but not experienced. While rhythmically complex, the tunes on Fine Whines are enjoyable neo-bop, with a few brief forays into free jazz that come off as playful rather than arrogant. The musicians wonderfully navigate the shifting time signatures and rhythmic settings in many of the tunes, with Sofferman driving the changes by throwing down an amazing array of tasteful patterns. For example "Forhermeto," a tribute to eclectic Brazilian composer and musician Hermeto Pascoal, shifts between 5/4 and 6/4 time, but not only that, it also parallels the time signature changes by alternating between Latin and be-bop (swing) feels. Another highlight is the whimsical variation on "Imperial March," the John Williams theme from "Star Wars." The rhythmic variation adds extra flavor that is expertly blended with the main neo-bop dishes served up on this record.
The solo work on the record by saxophonist Bergonzi, trumpetist Grenadier, and guitarist Zocher is consistently solid. The soloists navigate the time changes comfortably and keep up with the changing rhythmic moods, which is no small feat. But the spotlight never moves far from the drum work of Sofferman, who sometimes sounds as if he's playing with four hands and two feet. There are moments when he flirts with overstatement, to be sure, but Sofferman manages to stay just this side of it. Overall it is a masterful exhibition of jazz drumming amped up by the addition of complex time-keeping.