The word that kept coming to mind Wednesday night at George Shearing's Ambassador Auditorium performance was magic.
Shearing's music was like sleight-of-hand magic, like the small, elegant moves that baffle the mind, confuse the eye and stimulate the senses.
Working with longtime associate Neil Swainson on bass, the veteran jazz pianist seemed incapable of playing a false note. His ballad work on "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" and "Why Did I Choose You" was deceptively understated, filled with subtle harmonies balanced against gravity-defying melody lines.
Shearing's up-tempo material--especially a grooving "All or Nothing at All" and a whimsical rendition of "Freedom Jazz Dance"--produced mini-histories of jazz rhythms, from Erroll Garner-like, lag-behind chording to buoyant stride piano stylings.
Swainson was showcased on a lightning-fast romp through "Donna Lee" and a more introspective interpretation of "Some Other Spring."
But his almost symbiotic interaction with Shearing's piano work was his most important contribution.
Shearing's singing, usually the least-magical aspect of his performance, was surprisingly pleasant. His quietly plaintive but emotionally stirring readings of "Let's Face the Music" and "Something Known" were the final enchantments in an evening of musical wizardry.