Monday, 6 May 2013

MUSIC REVIEW: Pink Martini

The cinematically-oriented rhythm and all around groove of the US-based band give a large Derry-Londonderry audience something special to remember

An impressive and hugely inviting set up greets my eyes the very moment I stroll into the stalls of Derry-Londonderry's Millennium Forum. The large amount of instruments on stage - a violin, a grand piano, an upright bass, a guitar, a cello, jazz drums, conga drums and numerous percussion instruments - sit there, bathed in appealing, fluorescent light, waiting to be played. It's the first hint that the internationally renowned Pink Martini's reputation is well deserved.

Back in mid-1990's America, Thomas Lauderdale, a then-aspiring politician from Portland in Oregon, had the idea of coming up with a more "beautiful" and "inclusive" musical alternative to the lacklustre tunes he had heard at political fundraisers. Hence Pink Martini were born. And one year after starting out as a "little orchestra", Lauderdale recruited Massachusetts-based China Forbes and the band began to write songs themselves.

Since then, the only way has been up, with the band's diverse, multi-lingual urban sound filling houses all over the world, including famous venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. We are promised, in the band's words, an "musical travelogue"; a show that will transport us all over the world. We certainly get that tonight, right from the start of the band's first ever visit to the Maiden City.

Forbes, slinking onto the stage in an extremely eye-catching green dress, is immediately greeted by loud applause. The ensemble, the lighting, the sound and her booming voice instantly light up and fill up the Forum, converting the atmosphere into that of a Mediterranean Cabaret. It's one of many locations the band will seek to "take" us to through countless musical and lyrical languages.

Listening to "Sympathique" (above) gives you the feeling of sitting at a street cafe in France; "Congratulations", sounds like something from Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona; "Praeludium & Allegro", played by Nicholas Crosa, is as good a tune as any you'd hear at a Viennese concert; while "Una Notta On Napoli" makes one think of Italy, naturally.

But to these eyes, Pink Martini are more than excellent musicians and energetic tour guides; they are cinematic and televisual musical storytellers.

Forbes herself enjoys the way music and imagery, not just words, can be used to tell a story on screen, and her passion for silent cinema successfully transfers itself to the stage. It's a boon, not only for nostalgic movie-goers, but also those who want more from a concert-going experience than simply the tunes themselves. It's more than real music; it's reel music, spanning all kinds of filmic, harmonic and melodic genres.

The lush, epic and varied orchestrations surround a sweet, powerful and ingenuous singing voice. If it doesn't read and sound like a gym circuits class with lovely vocals and musical instruments, it's like Adele's "Skyfall" in a more versatile and easy-going arena. One reckons that if Forbes was offered the chance to sing a James Bond theme, she'd pull it off, though her and the band's repertoire goes well beyond that.

The performance is like experiencing a gangster movie, romance, musical, drama and comedy all at once. Our imaginations, voices and limbs are extended into uncharted territory every step of the way by the multi-lingual vocals, countless rhythms and catchy instrumentals. When the band are not paying tribute to Peter Gunn or referencing amusing sources as diverse as "Clementine", Monty Python or even Inspector Gadget, they're successfully exhibiting their humourous and frivolous capacity with tunes like "Hang On Little Tomato" and "Hey Eugene" (listen below).

Even if the occasional vocal harmony or instrumental doesn't quite have the same effect as it does when Forbes' voice leads the way, the overall impression is irresistibly charming and delightfully congenial. Never more so than when Forbes and the band welcome a fan called Francis onto stage to help them "remember the lyrics" to a song - which he does - and assist with percussion. Or when the entire band meets fans, both current and new, to sign CDs in the foyer.

When the night nears its end, the Pink Martini effect has been so positive that nearly everyone in the stalls wants to conga in the aisles of the Forum - a sight to behold. No one seems to mind that this isn't strictly jazz - they've been too lost in the music, and rightly so. Because Derry-Londonderry has truly been honoured to host such an upbeat and harmonious gig. The headquarters of the famous Fringe Festival have something really special waiting for them when Forbes, Lauderdale and their hugely gifted ensemble descend on Edinburgh tomorrow night.

Check out Pink Martini's official site at