on 24 February 2006
I found this album quite by chance ~ in fact I would say it was fate. After hearing a snippet on the radio but not catching or being able to find the name of the artiste/s, I consigned it to a sweet memory.
Then, looking for a different CD for my music-mad husband for Valentine's day, I was auditioning various CDs when my 9 year old daughter, attracted by the attractive and unusual cover, handed me 'Hang on Little Tomato' by Pink Martini.
The title alone plus of course the cool name of the group ensured a listen and ~ lo and behold ~ it was the music I had heard before but thought I would never hear again.
To cut a long story short, my husband had never heard of Pink Martini nor their music either, which was unusual enough in itself.
However, more importantly, he absolutely adored it, as do I and both my children (9 & 5 years). We play and sing along with it constantly ~ we also dance to it: how could anyone not?
We immediately booked tickets to see Pink Martini live, as part of their European tour, at the Barbican in March.
We are jazz devotees in this house but enjoy most music from the Kaiser Chiefs to Italian opera.
However, this is by far the best collection of music I can ever remember discovering.
There is the dreadful dilemma of wanting to share it with the world and yet, at the same time, wanting to keep it greedily to ourselves as a secret treat!
It is, quite simply, delicious!
on 6 February 2005
Pink Martini should be known as the little orchestra that walks a fine line in its music. The Portland, Oregon, outfit is deeply influenced by Latin music, jazz, cabaret, cinema scores and a smattering of other styles. But rather than simply aping legendary artists in their prime - and fooling only a few dim bulbs in the process - band shakes things up by writing its own material, or at least creating tasteful new arrangements that fit within the band's unique post-lounge framework. The band keeps the playful musical vibe on Hang On Little Tomato, but jettisons what kitsch factor it had, choosing to focus wholly on original material or stuff that isn't recognizable to the average music fan. It's been a seven year wait for fans since the band's fun debut, Sympathique, and while the blush is now off the rose, the band's creative ambitions and talent are never better displayed than here on its second effort. - Tad Hendrickson
"Everyone's hankering for Pink Martini. Not the drink, the band...they really have a groove."
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 originally created in 1994 by Harvard-graduate Thomas M. Lauderdale to play at political fundraisers for progressive causes such as public broadcasting, clean water, libraries, civil rights and affordable housing. In the years following, Pink Martini has gone on to perform its multilingual repertoire on concert stages, in smoky clubs and with symphony orchestras throughout Europe, Greece, Turkey, Taiwan, Lebanon and the U.S.
Hang On Little Tomato, Pink Martini's much-anticipated second album, features a collection of original songs written by the band and its extended family as well as a few undiscovered gems reinterpreted in high style. Drawing on themes articulated on Sympathique, Hang On Little Tomato is the result of the group's diverse collaborations and inspirations. From an advertisement for Hunt's Ketchup in a 1964 issue of Life magazine to a dance sequence in the 1950 Italian film Anna, Hang On Little Tomato includes songs in French, Italian, Japanese, Croatian, Spanish and English. "Una Notte a Napoli," for example, was written with Alba Clemente - an Italian stage and television star in the 1970s - and DJ Johnny Dynell of the legendary New York-based nightclub Jackie 60. In a reworking of the Japanese song "Kikuchiyo To Mohshimasu," Pink Martini collaborated with Hiroshi Wada, the slide guitarist whose group originally recorded and released the song in 40 years ago.
Originally released in 1997, Sympathique met with rave reviews worldwide, finding a place within the hearts of many and selling well over a half million copies. Building its legacy through unstoppable word of mouth, select high profile symphony dates, prominent placement in film and television and fashionable private appearances, Pink Martini has returned with their highly-anticipated follow up. Hang On Little Tomato is every bit the new album Pink Martini fans have been longing for. Lush string arrangements, soaring vocals and cosmopolitan rhythms unfurl from the brilliant international hemisphere that is Pink Martini.
on 31 January 2005
The 12 musicians crammed on stage in El Floridita, a basement club in London's Soho, are, if the hype is anything to go by, the new face of... well, no one is exactly sure what.
Snappily dressed in suits and ties, vocalist China Forbes in figure-hugging satin, this ensemble from Portland, Oregon, segue from Latin, jazz and pop to lounge, swing and world music with category-defying flair. Originals sound like standards: an upbeat show-tune makes way for an Afro-Cuban rumba. A big band number is followed by a catchy ditty in French.
There are songs in Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Greek, Croatian. Assisted by the showmanship of pianist Thomas M Lauderdale, the vibe is elegant, old-school danceable. Cocktail music for internationalists, perhaps. "If life is a cabaret, they are the band in the existential orchestra pit," said Variety. Whatever you call their sound, their name - Pink Martini - is one to remember.
Hang On Little Tomato, Pink Martini's second and current album, went straight in at number one on Amazon's best-seller list. It is currently zooming up the European charts; in France, where they are particularly loved, it has hit the commercial top 10. Their music continues to be used in film and TV (including The Sopranos), and spices up innumerable compilations.
Their fan-base is diverse, and growing. Not bad for an indie collective with an aversion to major record companies (their own label, Heinz, is named after Lauderdale's labrador), whose self-sufficient, pan-global aesthetic lets them perform what, where and with whom they want - a list that includes the choir from Lauderdale's old high school in Portland, more than 25 major orchestras across America, and Sharon Stone. Collaborations with the likes of the Los Angeles Philharmonic help fund regular tours at home and abroad.
"Our culture needs a commitment to beauty right now," says Lauderdale, 34, a dapper, diminutive chap in black-rimmed specs, over lunch with Forbes the next day. "It needs romance, optimism, a sense of community." The Harvard graduate founded Pink Martini in 1994, ostensibly as an opening act for political fundraising events. "The music at these functions was either techno or really bad '80s DJs. I decided to create an exquisite musical wallpaper, a utopia of songs and rhythms from different parts of the world."
Music that, whether promoting such causes as clean rivers, public broadcasting or, more recently, the presidential campaign of John Kerry (a distant cousin of Forbes'), represented an America that was multi-lingual, outward-looking, ready for dialogue. Oh, and fun. "It's like being a character from Breakfast at Tiffany's," grins Lauderdale, who wore little black dresses to some of the band's early gigs.
Political awareness came early for Lauderdale, who has postponed long-held ambitions to be mayor of Portland. One of four adopted children - "I've an Iranian and two black siblings; I'm the mystery Asian" - he moved from rural Indiana to Oregon aged 12.
"My father ran off with a German boy who worked in my parents' plant nursery. So we had to get out." Lauderdale Senior is now an (openly gay) pastor at the Peace Church of the Brethren in south-east Portland. The family remains a model of tolerance. "Everyone's the best of friends. My father even married my mother and her new husband." Singing hymns in his father's church, he adds, nurtured his love of beautiful melodies. "I never paid any attention to the lyrics, but I always thought Nearer My God to Thee was lovely."
The mixed-race Forbes, 35, all quirky glamour and sky-high cheekbones, was working as a singer/songwriter in New York when Lauderdale asked her to replace Pink Martini's original singer, whom he'd just fired. "I remembered our nights at Harvard, singing operatic arias and doing kooky versions of The Way We Were," she says. "So I let myself be lured to Portland."
The band released their debut album, Sympathique, in 1997. Featuring vaguely kitsch takes on such standards as Bolero, Brazil and Que Sera Sera, it went on to sell 650,000 copies, boosted by heavy rotation on influential Californian radio station KCRW. That same year they travelled to the Cannes Film Festival, where they played at a fund-raising auction for the American Foundation for Aids Research. Elton John and Ringo Starr joined them on stage; MC Sharon Stone elbowed her way up and danced. "People were going crazy," Forbes grins.
Portland, they say, is the right sort of laid-back, affordable place for independent music. Some 600 bands, including the Dandy Warhols, are based there. Pink Martini's members moonlight with other groups, while Forbes has plans to release her own pop/folk album down the track. Hang On Little Tomato (a title inspired by a 1964 ketchup ad in Life magazine, depicting a single tomato clinging to a vine) benefits from such a freewheeling approach.
Lauderdale co-wrote the poignant U Plavu Zoru with Mario Lalich, his Croatian next-door neighbour; Una Notte a Napoli has input from Alba Clemente, an Italian stage and TV star of the 1970s, as well as DJ Johnny Dynell of infamous New York club Jackie 60. "We never wanted to pander to that 'Will it sell?' mentality," says Lauderdale. "When you do that, you're doomed."
The fact that Pink Martini do sell, a lot, is put down to their wide-ranging appeal. "Everyone loves us," says Forbes. "Children. Dogs. Grandmothers. Most of our musicians are classically trained, so we're sophisticated enough for even the stiffest classical music fan to find a way in."
Then, of course, there are those who love to dance. Together. "In clubs today people tend to stand facing the DJ, isolated, lost in their own worlds. We help people connect with each other again."
Not everyone gets them, of course. "The FBI recently asked us to play their Christmas party." They shake their heads in disbelief. "OK, we've got a diverse audience," smiles Lauderdale. "But I mean, how ridiculous is that?"
on 7 April 2005
Pink Martini are a clever, delightful oddity who are impossible to categorise but have become one of the success stories of the year. Playing their first major British concert, as part of La Linea Latin festival, they came on like some glamorous lounge band from a 1940s Hollywood musical. Their singer, China Forbes, wore high heels and a long sleeveless gown so she could show off the hand movements that matched her cool, seductive vocals. The nine men surrounding her included four percussionists, two horns and double bass, and were led by the flamboyant, classically trained Thomas Lauderdale on grand piano. The first song, Let's Never Stop Falling in Love, seemed designed to set the mood for an evening of classy easy listening.
But that was just the start. Having established themselves as impressive musicians with a penchant for shamelessly romantic ballads and Latin-light melodies, they began to veer off into the unexpected. The band may be from Oregon, but they threw in a song in Japanese from a 1960s film noir, then a piece in Italian ("written with some drag queen friends", explained Lauderdale), and then a ballad in French in which Forbes now sounded like some latter-day Piaf with a deadpan sense of humour. Sympathique (Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler) has rightly helped them to become a bestselling band in France.
So it went on, with songs in Portuguese or Turkish ("which we learned last week in Istanbul") mixed in with a burst of 1930s jazz, a slinky lullaby, or a thoughtful German and English treatment of Hanns Eisler's setting for Brecht's To a Little Radio. The audience included La Linea's expected Latin dance fans along with children and their grandparents. By the end, they had been led on a multilingual world tour and had heard Lauderdale apologise for the re-election of Bush. Perhaps easy listening is the new subversive.