Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sympathique by Pink Martini

Sympathique by Pink Martini

While the cocktail lounge fad has seen more than a few musicians climb aboard as a career move, the members of Pink Martini are no bandwagon-riding aficionados. Fronted by pianist Thomas Lauderdale, Pink Martini is the real article--a band that approaches the music with unwavering seriousness yet never forgets the fun at the heart of it. Sympathique, the band's debut album reveals an incredibly diverse musical vocabulary on the part of frontman Lauderdale. And what singer China Forbes lacks in range and dynamics, she more than compensates for in attack, approach, and a clear understanding of the material. While most of the songs are upbeat, in the hands of Lauderdale and Forbes, "Qué será será," with its dark atmospherics should be rechristened "Qué será noir."

This is a stunning CD. It is a cohesive blend of Cuban, French, Greek, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, classical, and Brazilian music. It is a hit in Europe; one of the cuts was included on one of the trendy Parisian Hotel Costes' CDs. The music is hard to classify- Jazz? Latin? House? Retro? Whatever you want to call it, it is marvelous, sophisticated, quirky, cosmopolitan, and international. And believe it or not, the group Pink Martini comes out of Portland Oregon. The group includes 14 talented musicians, covering vocals, trumpet, trombone, violin, cello, bass, guitar, piano, and percussion. Two cuts are augmented with the addition of a string orchestra and children's choir.

This, their debut CD, was recorded in 1996-1997 in Portland. I can only offer the highest praise for this CD. Anyone, of any age, should find at least several things to love here. The first cut, Amado Mio, is a Latin groove. You will want to dance the tango or cha cha, even if you can't. The instrumental No Hay Problema is next, continuing the Spanish flavor. The next cut is what led me to the CD: Sympathique. This song could have been recorded by Edith Piaf, or Josephine Baker. However, it is an original work by the lead vocalist and the piano player of the group. It is definitely retro-light, humorous, tongue in cheek (in French, but the booklet includes a translation); I LOVE this song!

The next tune presents a remarkable plot twist. It is Que Sera Sera: yes, the song Doris Day made famous. It's the same song, but this is a twisted, chilling, haunted version. It's Doris Day meets Cirque de Soleil meets Fellini meets the Marquis de Sade. China Forbes' vocal is accompanied by an arrangement that is at once poignant, melancholic, light, discordant, tortured, wistful. This will blow your mind.

To soothe us after this alarming excursion, Pink Martini then kindly brings us to a calmer, peaceful place, thanks to a Frederick Chopin interlude, which flows into another Latin-flavored original composition, La Soledad. Chopin cleverly keeps sneaking back into the song. It's a fascinating juxtaposition. The Spanish theme continues with Donde Estas, Yolanda! Another instrumental, Andalusia, features some fine trumpet. It's a mellow, uplifting, driving piece that shows off the instrumental talents of the group. The next song, Song of the Black Lizard, in Japanese, is from the film The Black Lizard. It is sad and beautiful, and unforgettable (like the film). This work also demonstrates the power of the trumpet, this time with a Chris Botti-like chill groove.

The group stops next in Greece, with a slowed-down version of Children of Piraeus from the film Never On Sunday, which makes the song more poignant and wistful; and then cruises to Brazil with Acuarela de Brazil. The CD concludes with a reprise of Sympathique, this time called Lullaby. The tune is the same, but the mood is quite different-- full of longing, or looking back, or reminiscing.

If I had the option of giving this a multitude of stars, I would. This is an amazing work. If you have the opportunity to see this group perform live, run, don't walk. Their live concerts are amazing. They are clearly a bunch of clever, literate, talented, sophisticated, fun-loving, worldly people. I thank them for creating a delightful CD.

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