If you prefer your music with a coffee and a cigarette rather than a forty and a blunt, the lounge act Pink Martini is perfect for you. Performing courtesy of UCSB Arts & Lectures at the Arlington Theatre on Sept. 20, Pink Martini consists of 12 classically trained symphony musicians known for experimenting with genres from different countries and eras.
Founded by pianist Thomas M. Lauderdale in 1994, this Portland-based band got its start performing at political fundraisers before its European debut at the Cannes Film Festival. In fact, the 1997 debut album Sympathique is a filmmakers dream – the lyrics tell simple, idealistic stories about life and love, but the orchestration is just restrained enough to maintain the perfect level of musical distance from the band’s emotional lyrics. The overall effect is one of easy harmony, as the band members cooperate with each other to create flowing melodies and fascinating compositions that perfectly showcase their vibrant lyrical stories.
This cinematic vibe and the band’s retro cool has made it a go-to group for film folks, and Pink Martini has provided music for soundtracks that include “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” “The Sopranos” and the setup of the Microsoft 2003 server.
While Pink Martini is expert at creating cinematic background music, its modern tributes to classic styles can stand alone as well, as evidenced by the over 750,000 copies of Sympathique sold worldwide. The album features a variety of standout standards, including a cover of the dreamy “Amado Mio” that Rita Hayworth lip-synced in the movie “Gilda.” The Pink Martini version is a danceable Latin samba piece, with lounge piano, tango percussion and the sultry singing of China Forbes.
Pink Martini’s ability to reinvent the classics – and themselves – was further proven by their sophomore album, 2004’s Hang on Little Tomato. The album, which includes songs in Croatian, Japanese and Spanish, sold over 550,000 copies and boasts such hits as the sweet and sad “Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love.” Despite the emotional undertones of many of Pink Martini’s songs, the band always manages to avoid sappiness, thanks to its inclusion of Latin salsa percussion such as congas, vibraphones and bongos in even the most emotional of songs.
And, despite the clear retro overtones on all of Pink Martini’s albums, Forbes’ voice is deep and cool enough to contain just a hint of modern cynicism, allowing her to vocally reinterpret standard songs much like the band behind her does so musically.
Pink Martini’s latest release, 2007’s Hey Eugene!, has its share of samba and cinematic songs as well, but the international and modern influences have become more apparent. The album takes inspiration from Japanese mystery films, Arabian dance music, Italian marching bands and the independent American music scene. But despite all the exotic influences, Pink Martini remains true to its lounge club roots, carefully juggling the balance between theatrical and serene music.
Perhaps Pink Martini’s Web site does the best job of classifying the genre: “music which can be turned up or down, and played on almost any occasion, from the background of a love affair to vacuuming around the house.” Clearly, Pink Martini is striving to create a background soundtrack for your life, adding the drama, romance and intrigue that make every moment of reality – even a plain old coffee and cigarette – that much better.