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Pop Music Reviews : Pianist Steve Ross

July 05, 1986|DON HECKMAN

By his own admission, singer/pianist Steve Ross has been "dragged reluctantly from the '30s." The image seemed precisely right at his opening Thursday night at the Cinegrill, when Ross strolled out looking like the ultimate Princeton undergraduate--slicked-back hair, black tux and tie, and the kind of firm jaw and clear-eyed gaze that might have made him a prime candidate for the presidency of Sigma Chi.

But Ross had a lot more to offer than image. Moving quickly into a set that bounced from Eddie Cantor and Julius Monk novelties to a sumptuous Cole Porter medley (including his classic "Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor"), he gave immediate, and very convincing, credibility to the critical reviews that have described him as the best cabaret performer since Bobby Short.

With a younger, more versatile voice, and a piano technique that is mercifully free of the excessive pedaling that sometimes muddies Short's music, Ross has revitalized the sometimes arcane programming of the cabaret style.

He paid homage to Porter, of course, and Noel Coward and the Gershwins. But he also sang "La Mer" and "Eleanor Rigby" (in a startling interpretation that uncovered the dark currents in this apparently lightweight song). And on Henry Mancini's lovely "Two for the Road" and the pointedly accurate "99 Miles From L.A.," he modified his open-throat vocal quaver into a smaller, darker sound that was precisely suited to the material.

Ross's loving tribute to Fred Astaire included not only the expected "Let's Face the Music and Dance," but also the far less-known "After You, Who?" And the obligatory sophisticated patter songs ranged from Coward's "Please Mrs. Worthington" to the almost-funky "Taking a Bath in the Blues" and a frigidly humorous "April in Fairbanks."

Ross will appear at the Cinegrill tonight and Friday through next Sunday. The blending of his songs and persona amid the warm ambiance of the newly renovated Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is an experience not to be missed.

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