Like jazz singers Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough, Joe Sardaro doesn't have a great voice. His intonation is shaky and his range only moderate, but he uses what voice he does have with such a degree of warmth, relaxation and jazz feeling that only the pickiest of listeners would find fault with his delivery.
At Perino's Oak Room Bar on Friday, Sardaro came up with a well-paced set, weaving such finger-popping tunes as "Gone With the Wind" and "Ain't Misbehavin' " with emotive ballads like "Dindi" and "I Fall in Love Too Easily" into a satisfying whole.
On the tunes that swung, Sardaro showcased his rhythmic savvy. He stretched out some phrases, cut others short, added some funky endings, all in all working as much like an improvising horn man as he did a singer. One of his favorite devices was to repeat a syllable or a word, as in articulating "Tunisia" as "Tune-ee-ee-ee-zzah" in "A Night in Tunisia" or tagging the "Home" in "Mountain Greenery" as "oh-oh-oh-home." Occasionally, rather than sing the appropriate melody notes in a phrase, he'd instead offer them in a monotone, save perhaps one, which he'd accent strongly, so that it stuck out all the more.
On the slow tunes, he showcased his best range, the resonant baritone, nailing big, thick notes to which he applied a comely vibrato.
The singer was backed deftly by pianist Johnny Knapp and bassist Harvey Newmark, who provided the kind of flexible platform Sardaro needed. Knapp's solo spots were hit and miss: He was splendid on "Mountain Greenery," working with zesty be-bop feeling, but sometimes, as on "When Sunny Gets Blue," he played too many notes when just a few would have been fine. Newmark, offering a ringing sound, played several first-rate improvisations. Sardaro returns to Perino's Friday and Saturday.