Who? Is it a drink? A BAND? What do they play? Will I like them?
Well, I can answer the first three questions, but the second two are far harder to respond to.
Pink Martini are an eclectic band, both in terms of membership and music. As described by the Bands own bio “Somewhere between a 1930s Cuban dance orchestra, a classical chamber music ensemble, a Brazilian marching street band and Japanese film noir is the 12-piece Pink Martini. Part language lesson, part Hollywood musical, the Portland Oregon-based ‘little orchestra’ was created in 1994 by Harvard graduate and classically trained pianist Thomas M. Lauderdale
How did this style of music come to be of interest to the UK MJ scene?
Around 2003 people starting realising that Touch and Go didn’t just do a very suggestive, and very popular, single (“Would you …?). Partly through the persistence of DJ Peter Phillips, became popular. The album remixes of “Straight to Number One” and “Would you ..”. This music was far removed from the likes of Kylie, Enrique etc that seemed to pervade the MJ scene at that time. The many dimensions of the music actually gave the more accomplished dancers something to play with … and supported the growing movement towards dancing to the music rather than just executing a series of moves.
The ‘new’ Touch and Go is Pink Martini. Their music has been increasingly played on the London scene and has also caught the attention of the Scottish Ceroc scene. The tracks mainly played on the dance floor are ‘Amando Amio’, ‘Donde Estas’ and ‘Never stop falling in love’ though other tracks such as ‘Lily’ and ‘Hang on Little Tomato’ also have real potential. Aside from the MJ music, their other tracks are, to the believers, awesome … and synthesis of such different style that it really shouldn’t work …. But it DOES.
And so …. With a real sense of impending pleasure, I sat down for the Pink Martini gig a few weeks ago at the Barbican. I had seen them only last October (with around 25 of the London MJ set) and had been mightily impressed. Despite there was no new album, and I expected them to play a very similar set, I was up for ‘likin it’.
The first surprise was a change in the band line up. Last time there were two in the brass section and a single violin … this time there was only one brass but the addition of a cello player, a visiting member Claude Giron’s from Orchestre de Paris, and what an addition she was …. But more on that later.
Things were also different from the start, the opening track, “Never stop falling in love” had a different vibe, a more Carnival feeling … not sure if I preferred it to the album version, but it was great fun. They moved through another few tracks on wonderful form … the voice of China Forbes is something to behold ….. it reaches places that you wouldn’t think possible.
The band themselves are animated enough to do away with any need for flash multimedia screens or backing dancers. The drums section especially look like they are all just this side of being certified … a brilliant, zany edge to them .,… people who love the beat they are belting out … all like a bunch of naughty schoolboys who have been let loose in the school chemistry lab to see what havoc they can create. These are the guys you really want to go to a tequila bar with and know that fun is sure to follow.
On backing vocals Timothy Nishimoto, seemed more subdued than the last gig … but his vocals are still a delight. On the piano was the main man Thomas M. Lauderdale,again with the feeling of a naughty schoolboy, really genuinely delighted to be able to bring this music to the masses. Gavin Bondy on the trumpet as usual was superb. A strong figure himself, his contribution by way of music was equally impressive.
Aside from the usual delights, one the high spots for me was a hard hitting rift during a ‘Lily’ from Dan Faehnle on the semi-acoustic guitar. Though he was part of the assemble last time I don’t even remember him being there … this time however, his superb supporting rhythm and occasional rifts were most welcome.
However, my outstanding memory was at the start of ‘U Plavu Zoru’. I must admit that on the CD I’ve usually skipped the intro, its never really held anything for me. Not after the concert. Claude Giron’s cello took the brought a whole new delight to the track. A friend recently said to that good art takes you to another place, one that you know, whereas great art takes you to a new place that you never knew existed. That cello solo was definitely in the later category. It was a piece that I never wanted to stop, literally causing tears to well up …. And then China’s voice came in like warm chocolate on a naked girls back ….. a wonderful rendition.
Overall, what really struck me is that the albums, though treasured, do not do true justice to the band. Maybe it’s the production or just the limit of CD technology … but you HAVE TO hear Pink M live to appreciate just how good they are.
Its something about the stage presence, you don’t feel that you are 50’ away … you feel that these performers are friends who’ve dropped round to your house party and just started jamming. They manage to bring with their music a sense of intimacy that brings you in makes you feel part of it. In the cold light of day there are some of their tracks that aren’t my real cup of tea … BUT, once you are there, with Pink M playing before you, you only want to hear everything they play and never want the night to end.
The best news of the night is that they intend to release a third album later this year and will be on tour in Europe again. Make sure you book your tickets early!
Visit the Band at www.PinkMartini.com