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The Sherman Ensemble & Friends Soar Ecstatic

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Sep 2nd, 2017

Eddie Barbash with Susan Rotholz; Paul Woodile on left, Eliot Bailen on right

At St. Andrew’s Church in Kent, The Sherman Ensemble offered a “Mostly Italian” program last Friday evening. That’s an extremely bland description of what happened. Opening with Tomaso Albinoni’s pleasing Concerto for Strings Op. 7 no. 4 in G major, which showcased Susan Rotholz’s high arpeggio runs on her dazzling flute, they sketched the roots of Italian music before moving on to Giuseppe Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor, Verdi’s only composition without voice. Verdi only let the composition be played once in his home, yet everyone there wanted to hear it again. I’ve heard it played once before by The Shanghai Quartet and I had the same reaction. I was looking forward eagerly to hear it again and it had the same effect on me: the melodic fluidity, the dynamic contrasts, lively rhythms, and whimsical humor.

It was clear they had rehearsed well because they played with impeccable unity. In the opening Allegro the violins of Jill Levy and Paul Woodiel played with expressive presence; Eliot Bailen, the Artistic Director, waxed lyrical on cello in the Andantino; on viola Sarah Adams had wonderful moments in the Prestissimo. The concluding Scherzo Fuga is fierce, complex, demanding intense individuality of instruments as well as sudden, nuanced blending. They were more than up to the challenge, and once again I wanted a repeat performance.  Verdi probably thought that the quartet had noncommercial value or that it was a too-Germanic thing to do amid the birth of Italian nationalism with which he was identified, yet when he died a stash of Haydn’s and Beethoven’s late string quartets were discovered under his bed.

BAILEN then appeared on stage—three twenty-something siblings: twins Daniel and David with sister Julia. This acoustic trio (Daniel on bass, David on percussion, and Julia on guitar) performed two original songs: “I Promised You” and “Something Tells Me.” All three possess attractive voices with a unique harmonic  blend. A friend of mine suggested that the comparison would be to the tight-knit harmonies of the Everly Brothers. Their style was a mix of 1960’s coffee house and contemporary Emo music.  As lead singer, young Julia has a wonderful heartfelt voice that projects to the back of the room, yet at times falls to a whisper as if she’s talking to herself. This extremely talented trio offspring of Eliot and Susan have a future in music. Keep your ears open to their names, and since they perform locally, catch them.

After intermission everyone but Julia appeared on stage; they were joined by Eddie Barbash (alto sax) and Gabe Schnider (guitar). Barbash opened with a Cole Porter tune backed by this small orchestra. They dabbled in some movie music. Barbash then did a rendition of his mother’s favorite tune “Blueberry Hill.” If you enjoy alto sax, Barbash is now the man to hear. Famed drummer Chico Hamilton (who was seventy years older than Eddie who was 19) invited him to join his band.

Barbash was a founding member of Stay Human, Stephen Colbert’s first band for The Late Show. He has made four recordings with noted keyboard player Jon Batiste. Barbash played some Debussy to display delightfully delicate coloring. Susan Rotholz joined him for a puckish Mozart duet. The band played a melody for Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” Paul Woodiel on violin led “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s opera Norma. Barbash led the band in “Cien Anos,” popular Mexican tune by Rubén Cervantes that has had many covers and film usage. Barbash went into high gear with a famous folk tune, “The Carnival of Venice,” where he displayed virtuoso circular breathing. Barbash is simply the greatest alto sax player I’ve ever heard. The band joined Barbash in an orchestrated version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” What a night!

After lengthy ecstatic applause, they returned for an encore. They played a tune made famous by Benny Goodman, “The World is Waiting for Sunrise” with Barbash handing off the lead to Gabe Schnider on guitar for Gabe to deliver some amazing guitar licks. This was an extremely long concert yet it seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. They will perform again tonight in Sherman at Lake Mauweehoo Club. The Eddie Barbash Band will also be performing in Katonah on September 13th at Caramoor, 6 pm. For more details, check our Calendar section.