Nelson Brill Reviews Live Performances in Boston

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound.

In this article, Nelson beautifully describes several performances around Boston including Richard Lemvo, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Fred Hersch, and Eleanor McEvoy. We are so glad that Nelson was at The Burren to witness McEvoy in action. We have been enjoying Eleanor’s music for years and were very excited that she chose to use Nordost’s new Pro Audio Cables, Ax Angel, on her most recent tour in the US.


The world came to Boston recently in a series of stellar concerts that swiveled the hips and transfixed the mind.


First up was the glittering show put on by Ricardo Lemvo and his Makina Loca Band on a mid-September evening at a packed Johnny D’s in Somerville, MA., as part of World Music/CRASHarts music series ( The minute Lemvo and his band hit their first soaring notes, the dance floor was buzzing with crowded bodies swaying to the Angolan, Cuban street party sounds. Lemvo, who was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Angolan family roots, is a vocalist who is unstoppable: his deep vocal delivery possesses a great mixture of ardor, smoothness and prankish fun. His voice is a perfect vessel to bring the kinetic grooves of this music to flight, with everything from salsa swing, Congolese rumba and Cuban son pelting forth in joyous abandon. The musicians joining Lemvo were all sensational, including sterling solos by Stephen “Mofongo” Giraldo on his soaring trumpet, and stinging, lilting guitar work from Huit “Wee Kilo” Kilos. Trombonist John Roberts was full of brawn and might, joining Papo Rodriguez in his percussive flights as they both punctuated Lemvo’s swaying vocals. After more than two hours of whirl and sweat, the band reluctantly left the stage at closing time to the ecstatic ovations from the effusive crowd.

To get a taste of Lemvo and Makina Loca’s glorious creative stew, grab a copy of their 1998 recording entitled Mambo Yo Yo [Putumayo;] or their 2004 recording, Ay Valeria! [Mopiato Music] and wallow in the beautiful sway.



As a recording, Ay Valeria has a fuller sound (and a richer tonal palette to its brass and percussion sections) and Lemvo’s radiant voice is better integrated into a larger and deeper soundstage than found on the earlier Mambo Yo Yorecording, which, although rich in its own musical might, sounds a bit thin in the highs and less dynamic overall. Both recordings raise the roof off these life-affirming rhythms and grooves that Lemvo and Makina Loca have impeccably fused into their own dazzling dance party.

Down the street from the dance party at Johnny D’s lies The Burren, ( a rollicking little Irish pub with an intimate “Backroom” where, on October 10th, another slice of global grooves was taking shape. At this concert, Irish singer/songwriter Eleanor McEvoy brought her impeccable and searching touch to a song mix both “borrowed and blue” (the title of one of her originals on her 2008 frisky gem of a recording, Love Must Be Tough[Diverse Records;].


McEvoy held the audience at The Burren in the palm of her hand as she combined crisp guitar hooks with smart, sharply attentive vocals. In her eclectic mix, McEvoy addressed child sex abuse perpetrated by the Catholic Church; corruption in Irish politics and the highways and byways of love gained and lost. She effortlessly brought together influences as far afield as the glowing poetry of the Irish writer, Thomas Moore (1779-1852) to the lilting lyrics of the Beach Boys in her version of their classic, “God Only Knows” (which McEvoy delivered in spare and lucid vocals sitting at her keyboard). McEvoy’s guitar sound was dynamic, punctual and percussive, and she announced that for this concert she was utilizing a new instrument cable, (called an “Axe Angel”) manufactured by local high end audio cable company, Nordost ( a company that has supported independent artists like McEvoy for many years. That dynamic and searing guitar sound shone best on McEvoy’s rocking and sassy side: particularly galvanizing on McEvoy’s knife-sharp version of P.F. Sloan’s 1965 protest song, “Eve of Destruction.” Her encore, (to the delight of the capacity crowd), was Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” with McEvoy inhabiting her version with pulsing guitar grooves and her expressive vocal touches, lucid and flowing in crisp and dynamic ways.

Speaking of vocal dynamos, the fabulous and venturesome vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant (whose debut recording, WomanChild [Mack Avenue Records;] has been reviewed here as one of the finest vocal albums of recent memory, [with one of my favorite drummers, Herlin Riley, driving the percussive train]), put on a glorious show at a packed Scullers Jazz Club ( in Cambridge, MA. on October 2nd.  Salvant was joined by her swinging, brilliant compatriots: bassist Paul Sikivie, pianist Aaron Diehl and drummer Lawrence Leathers. The show commenced with Sikivie’s roving solo bass digging deep and pungent (Sikivie was a coiled marvel on his bass all evening) with Salvant eventually joining him in a careening version of “Lonely Town.”

From this brisk blast-off, Salvant and Sikivie were joined by Diehl and Leathers in what Salvant announced was her survey of “Infidelity.” This delicious foray into darkness included a delicate (then devastating) version of “Guess Who I Saw Today” (made famous by singer Nancy Wilson) with Salvant commencing the ditty with her beautiful simple talking, (up and down her fluid register) and then ending this tale of subterfuge with a volcanic intensity of deep vocal holds and powerful, glowing growls. Take a listen to Salvant’s fierce “Growlin’ Dan” from her latest album, For One To Love [Mack Avenue Records; for a taste of this same emotional intensity combining spoken word, leaping vocals and earthy growls to ensnare the emotional core of a song.

“Guess Who I Saw Today” was followed by a totally different artistic flight of fancy: Cole Porter’s “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love,” swung with sass and roving action, with Salvant humming along and then hanging on one bladelike high note while Leathers cracked fiercely on his wood rims and Diehl sprayed delicate, light runs on his piano.

The global reach of Salvant’s artistry extends to singing in French, and at her Scullers show, this included a brewing, intoxicating version of a 1932 song from Josephine Baker entitled, “Si J’Etais Blanche”(“If I Were White”). On this song, Salvant inhabited the shoes of a young black girl coming to understand her own beauty in a white world with an eloquent delicacy to her vocals-playful and coiled- accompanied by Diehl and his fastidious piano touches. Salvant has the uncanny ability to alight perfectly on any level of her vast and fluid vocal range, (like a songbird alighting on branches in the wind) to drive home the emotional power and core of the songs she offers as unfolding gifts.

Towards the end of their performance, Salvant announced that she and the band were “making their way slowly back into the light” (from their dark theme of infidelity). The highlight of this surge back into optimistic territory was their glorious version of Bernstein and Sondheim’s optimistic leap of faith in their “Something’s Coming” (from West Side Story). Here was a locomotive free-for-all, with Salvant and her band in perfect flight. Take a listen to “Something’s Coming” performed on Salvant’s latest and superbly recorded album, For One I Love, and you will hear a slice of the magic that was heard at Scullers this evening.


Sikivie’s soulful bass commences the action, with Leathers and Diehl prowling along in their own creative ways. Salvant then enters singing deep and soulful and the momentum builds to a crescendo of sounds and colors.  Salvant’s vocal buoyancy and Diehl’s velvet dapper chatter on piano lead the festive outpouring. Salvant’s final long-held high vocal note casts a beautiful spell over the last tumultuous down pouring of drum, piano and bass colors – drenching with its joyful expanse and power. This is a singer and band at the top of their game and there is nothing that is beyond their collective, dazzling reach.

This recent concert glimpse tour ends at the stages of two of our venerable Boston music schools: Berklee College of Music (“Berklee”) and The New England Conservatory (“NEC).

Berklee is teeming with student recitals that offer the reward of hearing talented young musicians just waiting to be discovered. (Check out the weekly schedule at  At Berklee’s recent “Guitar Night” (held on October 27th  at the Berklee Performance Center), there were a number of young musicians to discover, including freshman Sean Jordan on his searing blues guitar (performing a blistering version of “Crosscut Saw”) and a sprawling, colorful set from Venezuelan composer and Quatro player, Carlos Capacho. The Quatro is an electrified version of a traditional Venezuelan four stringed instrument, resembling a ukulele, and Capacho joined his large ensemble to burst forth with plucky, tensile sounds (including bright soars from Italian trumpeter, Cosimo Boni).

The highlight of this evening’s excellent performances, however, had to be the short set by young Canadian jazz guitarist Andrew Marzotto and his trio: Jongkuk Kim (from Korea) on drums and Mats Sandahl (from Sweden) on bass. Marzotto displayed a fluid touch on his guitar that was fantastic, and he improvised with a sense of melodic freedom, rhythmic feel and choice of chords and colors that was astonishing. Marzotto is primed for the big time and he is definitely a guitarist to keep an eye on. His band mates were sensational as well: Kim is a young master of creating decaying sheets of sound from his creative cymbal and snare work and the lanky Sandahl knows how to quietly move underneath the flow of his partners to keep the propulsion going.


For more great jazz guitar work, (reminding me a bit of Marzotto’s inventive blend of jazz, blues and rock inspirations), check out the latest release entitledDuets [Mack Avenue Records] from guitarists Stanley Jordan (on electric guitar and piano) and Kevin Eubanks (on acoustic, bass and electric guitars and piano). From the meditative “Morning Sun” to the twisting beauty of “Vibes” and “Nature Boy” to the rollicking “Old School Jam”, these two masters communicate as One, on a recording with stellar dynamic presence and tactile feel.

Finally, nothing could be more magical than a night spent at NEC’s magnificent Jordan Hall celebrating the 60th birthday of one of today’s most celebrated and treasured pianists, Fred Hersch, as he sent a valentine our way with a free solo concert performed at his alma mater on October 29th. Here the global reach of music came full circle in the softly expansive and unbounded freedom of Hersch’s creative touches. He started with Brazil: a romp on a Jobim theme that plummeted and grooved with a chug that was irresistible. He then launched into an Americana journey: taking the sweet whisper from his original composition dedicated to his mother entitled “West Virginia Rose” (which can be found on Hersch’s latest glowing release, Floating [Palmetto Records] with his synergetic partners John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums) and weaving that sweet theme into the light piano boogie propelling another Hersch composition, “Down Home” (dedicated to Bill Frisell and heard on Hersch’s stellar 2011 Alone At The Vanguard release [Palmetto Records].


The crowd in Jordan Hall sat transfixed as Hersch swept us off on a journey through his own childhood musical memories bookended by his renditions of a tune by Lennon and McCartney and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” Everything in these glorious pop tunes lay fresh and open for discovery in Hersch’s hands. Mitchell’s simple melody expanded and contracted on Hersch’s creative left hand bass holds and his leaping high runs. Those velvety high runs were so airy and gorgeous when heard in the expanse and deep silence of Jordan Hall and every now and then, (especially on the meditative tranquility of his selection from his opus, “Leaves of Grass” (performed several years ago with the NEC Jazz Orchestra), Hersch would linger to the very last key up top, to softly caress it and then begin his winding journey again. Hersch’s final gifts to us this evening were a spirited romp to his mentor at NEC, keyboard soloist extraordinaire Jaki Byard (in which Hersch outstretched his arms from one end of his Steinway to the other in funky, stride piano glory) and in his meltingly beautiful encore: his original composition “Valentine,” that wrapped up serenity, peace and a sense of home all in one final soft piano flourish.

If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.