Mel Torme's commanding stage presence, cantorial voice and Sid Catlett sense of time ticked off an opening set last night at a crowded Charlie's that bodes well for his 10-day stay there through May 1.
Torme, a jazz singer par excellence, moved from cloud-drifting-by ballads to whipped-up tornados, and his stylistic devices included sudden stops and starts, pregnant rests, three-steps-at-a-time stair climbing and hanging on to a syllable for an extra couple of bars. He carried on musical dialogues with his pianist, Mike Renzi, scatted on a Bach theme and even sang lighting directions to the sound man.
"Autumn Leaves" was begun in mock Maurice Chevalier voice and then was interlaced, at double-time, with "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing." A medley of a dozen or so Fred Astaire vehicles summed up an entire era, and Torme also paid homage, with individual songs, to Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael. The triumph of the set was the reflective mood and convincing continental ambiance of "How Do You Say Auf Wiedersehn?"
In addition to masterful accompaniment by Renzi, Torme was ably assisted by bassist Dave Wundro and drummer Donny Osbourne.