Peter Nero, at Charlie's through Sunday, could probably drop "Chopsticks" into his pianistic blender and it would come out a tour-de-force spread of everything from soup to nuts. He is short on soul and certainly not to be taken seriously as a jazz pianist, but as a highwire act he is a first-class entertainer. His opening piece last night juxtaposed loping stride and minuet-like stop time, hammered high treble single-note lines and rumbling bass melody. The ballad that followed tossed in some Wagnerian high drama.
But those were just warmups for his multi-styled rendering of Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm," which made use of Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Bud Powell and others, and then ran the tune through Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven.
The early ragtime virtuosos each had a showpiece, a real killer diller that was crafted for wiping out all competition. With Nero, every number is intended to razzle, dazzle and bring the house down. Snippets of quotes, jarring transitions of mood and spectacular shifts of tempo are all grist for Nero's mill. The pyrotechnics are there even if the content is on the cool side. Not surprisingly he was at his most moving on a spare and shadowy "Send in the Clowns," for which electric bassist Rich Nanista and drummer Eddie Caccavale dropped out.