The Buttonwood Tree is known for great music and its warm vibrancy. But every now and then something really special … something magical … happens. Saturday night, Anne-Marie Cannata, Executive Director of The Buttonwood Tree pulled a rabbit out of her hat and treated Middletown to a sparkling evening of entertainment. Once again, music lovers were treated to that special combination that happens uniquely at The Buttonwood Tree: an intimate concert featuring world-class musicians - and this evening held even more treats for their patrons!
Contributing to the magic of the night, Roberto Tschudin Lucheme, owner and head chocolatier at Tschudin’s Chocolates, was on hand throughout the evening tempting all with his incredible treats. Debi Friedlander, a local artist from Haddam, lined the walls of the gallery with her beautiful photographs adding a sense of peace and loveliness to the atmosphere. Meanwhile The Buttonwood Tree launched it’s Membership program offering discounts and their newly designed TBT mug to joining members.
Without a PA system separating the band from the audience, the Eric Mintel Quartet mesmerized the sold out crowd last night paying special homage to Dave Brubeck, performing originals and Vince Guaraldi songs from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Fortunately for the folks in the bookstore on the waitlist, they could clearly hear the music through the new speakers in the bookstore, courtesy of the Middlesex County Community Foundation and Ray Morant of Monster Music Merchandise. Many of them were thrilled and grateful to eventually be seated in the performance space.
The concert began with well-oiled covers of many of Dave Brubeck’s greatest hits including Blue Rondo a la Turk, Broadway Bossa Nova, and of course, Take Five. Eric Mintel was astounding on piano. His expertise on the piano evident as he turned frequently to visually connect with audience, his broad smile radiating warmth to patrons, without missing a beat. He led the band from the baby grand, his fingers performing amazing feats of chord and melody, his hands at times becoming a blur to the audience. Nelson Hill, who used play lead alto sax for Maynard Ferguson, was incredible on both the flute and saxophone (alto & soprano). While all the musicians offered gracious support and well-conceived solos, Nelson stood out with his astonishing performance. The bass player, Dave Antonow, was superb, and drummer Dave Mohn showed a deft touch throughout the evening. The band moved into extraordinary interpretations of Vince Guaraldi holiday classics, the saxophone adding much to what are traditionally songs performed as a piano trio. The evening ended with a mix of Brubeck songs and Mintel original compositions. The audience showed their appreciation with not one, but two standing ovations.
Their personal contact with the audience during their sets gave the room an air of warmth, comfort and participation. As one patron suggested, “It was as if I was sitting in my living room…”. Their masterful solos were candy to the ears. But it was the mix … the blend … the harmony of their ensemble that washed through the audience like a warm inviting shower. Having played venues like the Kennedy Center, the White House, and countless jazz festivals, The Eric Mintel Quartet seemed to enjoy the intimacy of The Buttonwood Tree as much as the audience and they responded favorably at an invitation to return.
Those who attended, some coming from as far away as Long Island, were blessed with sensational gifts to the ears, eyes and palate. Earlier in the afternoon, Debi Friedlander opened her art show … “Sensations” ... gracing the walls of The Buttonwood Tree with truly unique forms. Starting with digital photographs of her subjects … flowers, the ocean, the wake left behind by a passing speedboat and more … she enriches the image using colored pencils to expose the textures and emotional content that compelled her to capture the images in the first place. “Sensations” will be on exhibit at The Buttonwood until just after the New Year.And, if the evening wasn’t elegant enough, Roberto Tschudin Lucheme, Chocolatier and proprietor of Tschudin's Chocolates … finest of desserts of the Middletown culinary experience … wowed the crowd with fresh chocolate creations including a mousse, presented in a shot glass that would bring all but the very strongest of us to our knees. To top it off, Roberto created, live, a chocolate sculpture that embodied the spirit of The Buttonwood Tree’s central work … music, music, music. This sculpture can be seen on display at The Buttonwood Tree … at least until someone’s will power breaks down.
Writing contributors: Kelly DiMauro and Brian Burness