a name like Pink Martini, you’d think that this 10-piece orchestra
from Portland, Ore., was just a leftover from the cocktail-music
craze of a decade ago. The band, formed in the mid-1990s by
pianist-bandleader Thomas Lauderdale and singer China Forbes,
probably attracted a few fans during that short-lived era,
but they path they’ve chosen is musically richer and significantly
more adventurous. Lauderdale and Forbes are the principal
songwriters, and their tastes live up to the term “world music”
in a wide-ranging way that most of what is sold under that
marketing category does not.
Martini may have a cute name, but their music isn’t cutesy.
This is quite an achievement, considering they can’t resist
sampling sounds from all across the broad spectrum of 20th
century pop; it would be easier for them take it easy and
camp it up. But the musicianship is superb, the arrangements
imaginative, and the feeling genuine.
in point: The opening number at the Egg on Monday evening
was a bossa nova arrangement of Ravel’s Bolero. The
hypnotic melody began with violinist Nicholas Crosa, and was
taken in turn by Lauderdale at the keys, trombonist Robert
Taylor and trumpet player Gavin Bondy. Each added color and
momentum to an arrangement that honored the dynamics of the
iconic original work.
this got the crowd’s attention, Forbes, dressed in a sparkly
black “girl singer” dress, entered. She sang (in Portuguese,
of course) a 1934 hit by Carmen Miranda. The mood of the tune
was wistful, sad, longing . . . and when, afterwards, she
explained that the song was a lament about time lost on a
romance that should never have happened, I wasn’t surprised.
I can’t comment on her pronunciation, but I got exactly the
feeling she was trying to convey. Throughout the evening,
Forbes sang in Italian, French, Neapolitan, Spanish, Mandarin,
Turkish and English, all with aplomb. (I think I’m just imagining
there was one song in German.)
included the sunny 1920s-style “Hang On, Little Tomato,” the
sexy “Lilly,” the tender lullaby “Over the Valley,” the raucous
big-band workout “The Flying Squirrel,” and their two signature
tunes, the delightful hymn to laziness “Sympathetique” and
the sly, sarcastic “Hey Eugene.”
to their website, Pink Martini don’t play weddings anymore.
This is too bad, if only because they should be enjoyed by
people who have the space, and inclination, to dance. They’re
a great concert band, but they’re a great dance band, too.
A few people made their way to the aisles Monday to kick up
their heels to the encore “Brazil,” and I’m sure they weren’t
the only ones who wanted to bust a few moves.
Music Center, Skidmore College, Nov. 4
into a career marked as much by their irreverence toward the
jazz status quo as by their creative appeal to new idioms
and listeners, the Bad Plus have primed their audience such
that no one is much surprised anymore when drummer David King
produces a Fisher-Price noisemaker for a rendition of Stravinsky’s
“Variation d’Apollon.” And yet, as the band opened their set
at Skidmore’s immaculate Zankel Music Center, the touch still
carried their characteristic lowbrow humor. Only, now more
than ever, the trio seem insistent that there’s more to their
sound than smirking novelty.
first time in their career, the Bad Plus have recorded an
album that doesn’t include a single tune originally penned
by Kurt Cobain, Ozzy Osbourne, David Bowie, or Wayne Coyne.
Following For All I Care, in which the band finally
went all-in on a cheeky covers record, Never Stop is
their first collection of purely original tunes. And it’s
long overdue. While imaginatively reworked versions of “Heart
of Glass” and “Tom Sawyer” put this band on the map, it’s
the compositional merits of King, pianist Ethan Iverson and
bassist Reid Anderson that make them one of the most continually
engaging groups in jazz.
aside, the show similarly drew upon the band’s original work,
alternating between newer, more abstractly moody pieces and
older quirky stuff. King’s “Keep the Bugs off Your Glass and
the Bears off Your Ass” (a trucking song, Iverson deadpanned)
set up the formula early on. As virtuosic as Iverson’s busy,
chromatic piano parts were, the rhythm section continually
stole the spotlight, with King and Anderson effortlessly shifting
through complex time signatures and angular unison passages.
Even on the new ballad “Snowball,” an uncommonly emotive piece,
King anxiously clawed at his kit, never content to rest back
and swing, waiting for an opportunity to flex his punk-rock
barbarism. Naturally, the tunes in which he was allowed to
were the most engaging—namely older stuff like “The Empire
Strikes Backwards” and “And Here We Test Our Powers of Observation.”
Only the new album’s title track had the same manic energy.
is OK, because sentimental balladry like “People Like You”
speaks volumes about how this band have matured. Spare, patient
and direct, it also helped connect the band to a lineage that’s
becoming more evident in their work than the previous one
in classic/prog-rock. Performing to an academic crowd, the
Bad Plus displayed this transition expertly in the encore,
segueing from their calling-card cover of electronic artist
Aphex Twin’s glitchy “Flim” to a tempo-modulating rendition
of “Have You Met Miss Jones” by Rodgers and Hart.