That Martin Nievera/Michael Paulo concert last night (March 3) at the Ala Moana by Mantra’s Hibiscus Ballroom, was a surprisingly sweet double bill of two locals who previously had never performed together on the same stage.
One exudes sexiness and charm, in his ballads; the other is all about the sax, a hoot of a tooter.
The pair have common backgrounds. Nievera is the son of Roberto Nievera, the late featured balladeer with the Society of Seven, and is Manila-born and Hawaii-raised. Paulo is an island native, the son of a singing mom and pianist dad who were known as Rene and Akemi Paulo in their heyday; his siblings are performers, too, and Paulo’s smooth jazz and pop riffs were part of the Kalapana legacy.
Incredibly, the twain never met till now. Nievera etched a career as the “concert king of the Philippines,” as a singer and TV host, and Paulo as a renowned jazz musician focused on his awesome saxophone tooting.
Clearly, this M&M union won’t be the last.
The sellout Ala Moana gig seemed to bring out each artist’s best. Nievera has always been a crooner of a tuner, like his dad, creating an imprint of love ballads mixed with slightly upbeat originals rendered in English and Filipino, signaling his wide international following. Paulo never sings a note, but sax’s the thing for him; his fingers work magic with the instrument, which emits eloquent sentiments without the arc of traditional language, but a vocabulary that reflects a variety of moods. He also is mobile and magical, traipsing through the crowd, never missing a note.
How the pair would share the stage was the question.
So: Paulo offered a nearly hour-long set of jolting, expressive jazz tunes, incorporating his unique brand of hip-hopping prancing choreography, reflecting his joy and savvy in sax-speak, to coin a term; and he even jumped onto a table to show his socko involving power as an unrivaled risk-taker.
After an intermission, Paulo’s musicians became the house band for Nievera.
Nievera is never known to disappoint; he is witty, playful, inventive and totally in control, belting out the familiar like “Corner of the Sky” and “I Love You More Today Than Yesterday,”
with confidence and charm. He adores adulation, and always makes an impression, this time jumping off stage to parade amidst the fans, utilizing a Plexiglas frame to suggest pandemic protocols. Unconventional, but a thrill for the audience.
One of the sweetly satisfying but unexpected duet was on Al Jarreau’s signature tune, “Mornin’,” with Nievera providing the voice and Paulo emoting the saxophone riffs, recalling the era when he was a sideman in Jarreau’s band. The sax accompaniment was otherwise sparing, thus effective.
Nievera, a composer when he’s not singing, shared two touching originals that showcased the depth and breadth of his sentiments. “Sacrifice,” inspired by the frontliners (first responders, hospital workers), reflected the themes of service and oneness – “we’re in it together,” as one phrase suggested. The other sentimental journey, “I’m Be There for You,” promised attention and love for the singer’s three sons, two in their 30s and making their niches in life, the third age 15 with special needs.
Clearly, Nievera has matured over the decades, and realizes he is a veteran and a likely role model for future wannabes. After all, he will mark his 40th year next July 5 as an entertainer; to anticipate the upcoming milestone, he did a reflective medlley that collated the memorable “Be My Lady” and “You Are My Song,” signatures in his repertoire.
Paulo’s sizzling band included Tateng Katindig, keyboards; Johnny Valentine, electric guitar; David Inamine, bass; Michael Grande, keyboards; Garin Poliahu, drums. For his segments, Nievera tapped two backup female singers and a trio comprising a horn section (sorry, identities unknown).
The M&M bill attracted quite a celebrity crowd, including former Governor Ben Cayetano and gubernatorial candidate Vicky Cayetano, Ginny Tiu, Jack and Cha Thompson, Danny Kaleikini, Melveen Leed, Augie Tulba, Emme Tomimbang, and the aforementioned Paulo parents.
Technically speaking, the lighting was erratic, lacking brightness for much of the evening, and the audio occasionally was uncomfortably louder than necessary.