Sonic journeymen: Pink Martini serves a global cocktail
July 11, 2007
Download the world’s soundtracks onto an iPod, set it to "random" play and it might come close to a Pink Martini album.
"Hey Eugene," the band’s latest release this May features the image of a woman wearing a bouffant coif and thick eyeliner squatting on a red carpet on its cover and the first three songs play as follows:
Track one: a dreamy 1950s musical number called "Everywhere" that begins with soft harp and violins.
Track two: a rendition of "Tempo Perdido," a 1930s hit by the Portuguese-Brazilian fruit-headdress-wearing singer Carmen Miranda.
Track three: a brass-and-bongo Peruvian song, "Mar Desconocido," which a band member has described as "a song from a Pedro Almodovar film."
Pink Martini band leader and pianist Thomas M. Lauderdale has called himself and his 11 fellow members "musical archeologists" for the way that they pillage the past and present for their repertoire.
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"It’s like an urban musical travelogue," he has also said, " and I think as citizens of the world and in a sense as musical ambassadors for the United States, we must always strive to study the languages, customs and histories of other countries."
But, don’t necessarily think of the new age genre "World Music," think "World Cinema" and "World Stage." The songs crafted and covered by Pink Martini are songs fit for smoke-filled cabarets and Bollywood films, for Billie Holiday and Marlena Dietrich.
As an example, Lauderdale has described the band’s cut of the peppy lament "Bukra Wba’do" ("Today and Tomorrow") as a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and a Technicolor musical. The song was originally sung by Egyptian singer/actor Abdel Halim Hafez, and China Forbes, the band’s sultry songstress, sings it in the original Arabic (she consulted a professor of Arabic at Portland State University to perfect the accent.)
In an interview with The Park Record Lauderdale likened Pink Martini to a "Hollywood musical from the 40s."
Saturday night, Lauderdale and his band will travel from their hometown in Portland, Ore., to play beneath Deer Valley Resort’s chairlifts as the premier act for Big Stars, Bright Lights Summer Concert Series. The July 14 concert marks their second performance in Park City since 2006, 10 years since their debut album "Sympathique" (by their independent label "Heinz Records") and, as it happens, Lauderdale’s 37th birthday.
The abridged version of Pink Martini’s history is that Lauderdale, a Harvard-educated classical pianist started the band in 1994. He was working in politics, so Pink Martini’s first gigs were at fundraisers for progressive causes like civil rights. Lead singer and songwriter Forbes, who knew Lauderdale in college, joined in 1995.
The band’s first big break came after they played the Cannes Film Festival in 1997. They’ve regularly toured Europe ever since and are only recently beginning to tour again in the United States and Canada.
"European audiences speak the languages of a lot of the songs we sing and there was a lot of intrigue in Europe about this American band performing a multi-lingual repertoire," Lauderdale explained. "We’ve actually spent a lot more time traveling in Europe, but things are starting to change and we’ve spent a lot of time in the United States in the last year or so."
The band is often called a "little orchestra." Pink Martini consists of a brass section, four percussionists, and a range of stringed instruments. The members have been known to perform their songs on stage with full-fledged professional orchestras abroad in France and Turkey, and at home in Oregon.
While Pink Martini’s first album, "Sympathique," was nearly all covers of songs, Lauderdale says more than half of "Hey Eugene" are originals he composed with Forbes, and songs penned by other members in the band, including Bassist Phil Baker who wrote the Bossa Nova "Cante E Dance."
"Everyone in the band comes from a different background whether it’s classical, jazz, folk or pop or Cuban percussion or Brazilian percussion," Lauderdale said. "Everyone contributes to the writing and I think it makes things a lot more interesting."
The musical choices the band makes has to do with what they like, not where they hope to fit in the music world and it gives them a broad pallet to choose from.
"Through the years, I just listened to a lot of different kinds of music on mixes songs in different languages and songs that really don’t seem to go together," he explained. "I think a lot of the music we play has to do with the music we love."
Pink Martini will take the Snow Park Amphitheater stage on Saturday, July 14 at 7 p.m. Lawn seating tickets are still available for $28. Lyle Lovett and k.d. lang will perform on Sunday, July 15 and lawn seating tickets are also still available for that concert at $45.
The PCPAF Big Stars, Bright Nights series runs from July 14 through August 31 at Deer Valley Resort. Gates open 90 minutes before show time. Coolers are permitted and a nine-inch chair height restriction is enforced; cameras or recordings of any kind are strictly prohibited. Please call (435)655-8252 or visit http://www.ParkCityTickets.com for tickets and information.