The trio that backed Johnny Hartman last night at Charlie's couldn't have chosen a more appropriate tune to open with than Duke Ellington's "In a Mellotone." After all, an evening spent listening to Hartman is about as soothing an experience as jazz has to offer.

The more you listen to Hartman, the more you're impressed. First there's his big, luxurious baritone to admire, a voice that extends effortlessly from a deep, calming resonance to a soft, glowing hush. Then there's his phrasing -- as elegant as it is articulate. Combine those qualities with Hartman's superb collection of ballads, and you have an idea why he is so highly regarded in jazz circles.

Backed by the fine trio of pianist Tony Monte, bassist Paul Langosch and drummer Bill Reichenbach, Hartman lost no time rekindling old romantic fires. Some of the numbers he sang -- "Almost Like a Song," "Moonlight in Vermont" and "Lush Life," which he recorded with John Coltrane -- were so sensitively performed that they brought an uncommon quiet to the room. Certainly those who heard him last night will pass on the word: Johnny Hartman is in town.

He appears at Charlie's through Sunday.