Here is a promise: You will not hear a local jazz group play with more talent, more focus, more intensity than the quintet led by drummer Brooke Sofferman.
Sofferman, a New England Conservatory professor who calls his group The Sofferman Perspective, has quietly become one of Boston's most interesting musicians and band leaders. As a drummer, he is nonpareil; he elicits a symphony of percussive sounds from his kit. As a composer, he is impressive; his tunes incorporate intricate melodies and utilize odd time signatures. As an improviser, he is remarkable; he shifts rhythms and tempos effortlessly and unnoticeably.
His work on "UVB," a jagged Monk-like piece that opened the quintet's show Tuesday night at Scullers Jazz Club, exemplified this perfectly. He rarely played the same pattern for two straight bars, and his aesthetic brought together elements of bop, blues, and rock. Even the tune itself was an amalgam - you could hear '40s bebop, '60s hard bop, and modern jazz in its structure. Later in the concert he unveiled a tune called "Elephant's Gun" that mashed up the Henry Mancini songs "Baby Elephant Walk" and "Peter Gunn" and turned them into something angular and volatile.
But what Sofferman and his sidemen did with his piece "Are You Sureious?" ranks among the greatest moments in jazz I have yet experienced. Sofferman started with his brushes as the quintet dug into what seemed like a ballad. Except for the slightly rock-oriented beat, the band sounded an awful lot like Miles Davis's great 1960s quintet. Saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi and trumpeter Phil Grenadier played tightly and then traded solos. Pianist Leo Genovese and bassist Bruno Raberg - along with Sofferman, now using sticks - did most of the improvising. Gradually the tune grew rancorous, obscuring more and more its pretty little melody. Grenadier turned in a gorgeously fluid solo; Genovese ran amok on the keys, making great use of pauses and clusters; and Sofferman attacked the ride cymbal, pushing the tempo harder and harder. So there it was: five musicians, each prodding the other four toward higher levels of intensity. And then it hits you: This tune began as a ballad! When it was over, the guy next to me turned his head, and all he could muster was "wow."
My thoughts exactly.
Steve Greenlee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.