Both are class acts. One will continue; one won't.
It's fitting that Torme and Shearing are the penultimate act before Charlie's closes in two weeks with performances by the man who opened the club and gave it its name, Charlie Byrd. It was Torme and Shearing who set the house records even as they defined the elegance and grace that Charlie's aimed for.
"An Evening at Charlie's," recorded there in October 1983 by Torme and Shearing, is an evening well spent. The singer and the pianist have been working together for 10 years now; so deep is their empathy, so compatible their art, that it seems like forever, and seems like just yesterday. Torme in particular seems to get better with age: His smooth, inventive vocals conjure up Ben Webster on ballads and Coleman Hawkins on the uptempo cuts that inevitably segue into his trademark scatting.
The album kicks off with a pulsating "Just One of Those Things," redefined and expanded by some passages from "On Green Dolphin Street." Torme sounds particularly impressive on introspective ballads such as Cole Porter's "Dream Dancing," Arthur Schwartz' "Then I'll Be Tired of You" and a duo-generated medley, "Caught in the Middle of My Years" (a Shearing tune) and "Welcome to the Club" (a Torme original). Where Sinatra would bathe these songs in pathos, Torme reaches into the lyrics for what they mean, not just what they say.
Torme also plays off his image on Dave Frishberg's hilarious and all-too-accurate parody of the in-crowd, "I'm Hip." On "Nica's Dream," Shearing and bassist Don Thompson engage in some spirited interplay as Torme and drummer Donny Osborne sit out. Throughout, Shearing's immaculate piano seems less accompaniment than extension, so connected is it to the source. He is at once sensitive, prodding, sympathetic and challenging, and Torme responds appropriately.
The only clunker is "Chase Me Charlie," a minor Noel Coward song, but Torme and Shearing close things things out with the upbeat "Love Is Just Around the Corner," another ballad redefined by its more active tempo (and listen to Torme's jazz quotes in his scatting).
All in all, this third recorded collaboration lives up to the inspired standards of its predecessors (both of which won Grammies). One hopes Torme and Shearing find a new in-town venue; this is one road show we shouldn't be denied.
MEL TORME & GEORGE SHEARING -- "Mel Torme and George Shearing: An Evening at Charlie's" (Concord CJ-248); appearing at Charlie's Georgetown Friday through June 23.