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Love languages: Pink Martini at the Egg.

Photo: Joe Putrock

World Party

By Shawn Stone

Pink Martini

The Egg, Nov. 8

With 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.

Pink 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.

Case 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.

After 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.)

Highlights 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.”

According 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.


Irony Men

The Bad Plus

Zankel Music Center, Skidmore College, Nov. 4

Ten years 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.

For the 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.

Stravinsky 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.

Which 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.

—Josh Potter

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