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Upbeat Sherman Ensemble Jubilation

Music Review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Mon Nov 26th, 2018

Ted Rosenthal at St. Andrew's Church

The Sherman Ensemble continues to offer wonderful programming. Jazzing it Up! at St. Andrew’s Church in Kent last Sunday afternoon provided a joyous musical experience that traversed classical music, contemporary jazz, and even pop music. They opened with a quintet version of Duke Ellington’s “Warm Valley,” which featured a short piano lead followed by a mellow yet dominant alto sax with seductive lyrical tone played by Eddie Barbash; Eliot Bailin on cello supplied a contrasting cello solo that also exuded warmth.

“West Cornwall Bridge” by drummer Chris Parker was one of the compositions he wrote for the soon-to-be released film Seeing the Light, a documentary film about four painters who suffer from macular degeneration and are losing their eye-sight, one of the four being his father, the noted Cornwall painter Robert Andrew Parker. The flowing quintet became a sextet as flutist Susan Rotholz joined this contemporary jazz composition that adeptly ran the gamut of sad to meditative to modest hope in the piano solo. Now in his eighties, Parker continues to paint, and he was present in the front row.

Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” delivered an amusing romp as traditional tango tempo muted into double-time, then grooved into a triple-time crescendo, falling back to-double time, regular time, back to double-time, and ending in an explosive yet humorous triple-time finale that spiked an exclamation mark!

Susan Rotholz and Eddie Barbash performed flute and saxophone duos written by Mozart and Rossini. Originally written for flute and clarinet, these humorous dueling duos capered into the risible absurd and I could not help but laugh at these master’s impish displays of playful wit and the pointed, clear rhythms of the performers.

“Till there was you” from the Music Man was sung first by Eliot, Susan, then their daughter Julia, who sings in a trio with her brothers Daniel and David. While her parents adopted the traditional show-tune approach, Julia segued into a more intimate jazz style as she emphasized softer dynamics with her soprano voice.

Pianist Ted Rosenthal then took the spotlight. He played several excepts from his new opera Dear Erich., which will open January 9 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan. His family recently discovered a box of their father’s letters from a German friend. They were translated, opening up a new window of their father’s past; their father had fled Nazi Germany and settled in Chicago. Susan Rotholz, who has a marvelous voice, sang “Everything My Father Never Told Me” while instrumental versions of other jazz opera tunes were played. “You Make Me Laugh” was couched in the style of 1930’s Chicago jazz with Barbash leading on sax. “Melancholy Waltz” featured a cello lament and wistful piano solo reminiscent of Bill Evans. “I Never Knew” focused on astonishment and the mood of revelation while “Always Believe” (another way of saying Always Remember) conjured an extended portrait of Ted’s mother and her ability to embrace a new culture amid the shifting jobs of her husband and growing family. The joy, careful consideration, and meditative ambiance of Ted’s personality glowed with attractive fluidity. This was an exciting preview of a major jazz opera.

Swinging over to pop, the sextet dove into a rendition of Vincent Rose’s “Blueberry Hill” where Barbash excelled on sax, his tone capturing the pleasure of a view. “Mariachi” by Eddie Barbash smashes together traditional Irish and Mexican melodies with delightful results. Barbash joke that at the age of nine he told his mother that he intensely disliked Roy Orbison, but now that he has created a saxophone arrangement for “Crying,” he thinks Orbison is wonderful; here Eliot Bailen fluently picked and strummed on guitar.

The finale was a version of Ted Rosenthal’s composition “Sunny Side Up / South Side Samba” where every instrument played a solo, so that Chris Parker on drums could displayed some ebullient crash, and Thompson Kneeland on double bass could assert that he was clearly the boss of rhythm.

This concert offered a whirlwind of contrasting musical styles; all musicians performed with intense zest and companionable unity. One could not help but leave with renewed spirit and extra bounce in the toes.