Sherman Chamber Thanksgiving Jazz Ensemble

by Kevin T McEneaney

The Sherman Chamber Ensemble is not your ordinary ensemble: while it specializes in classical music, it is equally adept at various jazz genres. The sextet that performed at S. Andrews Church in Kent, CT, last Sunday offered top-level musicians who have played together for years, if not decades. The result was a flawless performance honoring jazz giants of the past.

They opened with Selections from Suite for flute and Jazz Trio (1999) by the French jazz composer Claude Bolling (who died three years ago) with the movements “Baroque and Blue,” “Sentimentale,” and “Veloce.” The Trio consisted of noted jazz drummer Chris Rhythm Parker, Thomas Down Deep Kneeland on double bass, and Ted Lightning Fingers Rosenthal on piano. This was a showpiece for Susan Mount Olympus Rotholz, whereby she fast-pitched high cloud-notes from the clear heights with silvery waterfalls.

Fried Bananas by Dexter Gordon (who recorded over a hundred albums) substituted Susan’s flute for Gordon’s tenor sax. This piece comically features high notes in the first movement as if attempting to reach bananas high on a tree and even jumping high to grab them, then moving to lower notes where bananas are fried in the heat of jazz as the excited flute becomes less manic and warms in the lyrical glow of flame. Bananas have long been a staple of comedians with sight gags, even the dour comic writer Samuel Beckett was obsessed with bananas. Did you know that half your DNA is the same as a banana?

Without stopping, they segued into 3 in 1 by Thad Jones (arranged by Kneeland). This up-tempo beat rose to a furious finale with Susan at top-alto sax with smooth, mellow playing that led to explosive crescendo while Ted on piano effortlessly nailed the rapid block-chord keyboard playing that made Garland famous as Ted pounded out the breathless, smashing finale.

 Yes, everyone was in the groove for Bag’s Groove by Milt Jackson, the bebop vibraphonist, especially Eliot Suave Finesse Bailen on cello who transformed the cello into a more elegant and resonant persona than any vibraphone could produce, although it was Ted on piano who led the band with fingers romping on piano.

For Oye Como by Tito Puente, composer and bandleader, who recorded about a hundred albums, Elliot switched to playing guitar with mellow Puerto Rican riffs as Barbash took center stage command, then passed the lead to Susan’s flute. Susan then sang in Portuguese for the first time with Girl from Ipanema by Antônio Carlos Jobim, perhaps the greatest hit song by the Brazilian composer, pianist, guitarist, songwriter, arranger, and singer. Susan sang with perfect Latino rhythm and inflection with clear diction and effusive empathy as Barbash flew high passionate notes above the heads of the

Ted then took charge with his famous composition, Jazz Up: Chopin which I had heard before in his solo piano version now arranged for all six players as Susan and Eliot played conchs. They played the movements “Mazurka in A Minor” where piano and sax, like wife and husband, danced out notes with lyric lift and downbeat rhythm. “Waltz in C# Minor” let the whole band loose, especially Parker with his drum solo—each player improbably adapting their instruments to twist the waltz into a swinging format.

You’re a Giver by drummer Chris Parker also permitted each instrument to solo and here Kneeland stood out with double bass and Barbash blew his mighty horn!

For Finale Ted’s most famous composition, Sunny Side Up, was arranged for the whole band. This noted piano solo was now arranged for the whole band with delicious solos from Bailen, Parker, and especially the composer with his Lightning Fingers!

This concert was memorable, not only for merely its stunningly melded swing, but even more for the sense of contagious joy imparted to the audience. Here was a giving of thanks by these extraordinary performers which the whole audience felt was an astonishing feeling—what the Greeks called catharsis, that feeling of being reborn, and in this case, reborn to give thanks for the marvelous joy of life!

Kevin T McEneaney

Author of Hunter S. Thompson: Fear, Loathing, and the Birth of Gonzo, and other books