Written By: Guillermo Perez
Originally published on artburstmiami.com
For their musical concoctions, the talented mixologists behind Pink Martini keep to the most intoxicating melodies, just the right parts of glee and longing, and always an unfailing beat. Need a taste? Angle up to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts’ Knight Concert Hall, where America’s biggest little orchestra, with its soul in the symphony hall and its heart in a lounge, will perform on Saturday, Feb. 11.
Led by founder and mood-meister Thomas Lauderdale at the piano and spotlighting China Forbes on vocals, the group from Portland, Oregon has been crossing multiple genres like musicians without borders since 1994.
Whether serving up the classics or originals in jazz, pop and world sounds, Pink Martini has a wily way of reviving vintage tunes and burnishing newly minted songs for a pedigreed glow. Forbes and guest vocalists sing beyond its repertoire in English, but also in Spanish, French, and Italian, which Lauderdale points out was not that uncommon for American pop singers in the 1950s and 1960s. Add to that Japanese, Romanian and Turkish, and, if you’d like a ditty in Farsi or Croatian, why, they’ve got that, too.
Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes of Pink Martini. (Photo courtesy of Chris Hornbecker)
In fact, their signature song, “Sympathique,” boasts lyrics en français. It was featured on the band’s first and same-named 1997 album, an equally happy home for Ravel’s “Bolero” and Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s “Andalucía” alongside the band’s take on “Que Será Será (‘Whatever Will Be Will Be’)” and film-noir import “Amado Mío (‘My Beloved’).” The Forbes-Lauderdale “Sympathique” landed like an anthem in France, nominated for a national award and adopted by striking workers, its Gallic nonchalance announcing a hankering to resist work and forget the world while blowing smoke rings.
The group upholds Lauderdale’s notion that Pink Martini rolls on as if the United Nations had a house band. That’s true not only due to their polyglot songbook but also the universal equity they’ve upheld from the start. Their origin story entails a fight for civil rights in Portland when Lauderdale rustled up his first combo to entertain at progressive political events. That displayed spunk—not to mention sparkle—when he also recruited The Del Rio Triplets, senior sirens at the guitar, and slipped on a cocktail dress to glamour things up.
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, proclaim the French, and Pink Martini stands by that motto, their musical freedom putting the whole world on an equal footing of joy. It’s the mission—sustained by good old American enterprise—that drives their constant globetrotting and now brings them back to Miami for its Sunshine Tour. The group has made Miami a regular stop on its tours performing first at the Arsht in 2008 and now returning for its fifth appearance.
From Austin, Texas, Forbes reflected on being on the road so much, especially from the moment pandemic conditions eased. “It’s difficult for me now that I have a thirteen-year-old son,” she admits, missing mothering him and the comforts of their Portland home, a quirky nest where she plays her piano and composes. “But touring is the best way to share our work. People just don’t buy that many albums anymore. And this lets us bring the fans the musical intimacy we cherish.” Even at the larger venues the band likes to keep the groove cozy, welcoming audience participation and opening up for requests.
In her embrace of Miami, Forbes has always been game to deliver audience favorites, from the rip-roaring “Brazil” to “Hey Eugene,” its bounce drawing us in as if over a page in her diary. “I wouldn’t want not to do these,” says the singer-composer. “It would be weird to disrespect the songs and fans that way. I know when I attend a concert, that’s just how I feel.”
The current tour also includes material from recent and upcoming releases on the band’s Heinz label, including Forbes’ first solo album in fifteen years. “That’s scheduled for September—good timing since it has a very autumnal feel,” notes the artist.
Among her new works, “Full Circle” offers—as a listener was moved to tell Forbes after a concert—a balm to mend any broken spirit. And “Rise,” which has been taken up by suicide-prevention networks, is a touching memorial to the late Pink Martini percussionist Derek Rieth, who made sparks fly from assorted drums, helping to stamp the band with its distinctive Latin sounds.
Now keeping the music percolating with his own heat is Cuban-born Miguel Bernal, a percussionist nurtured in his island’s Afro rhythms. And Forbes affirms he can also make your heart ache crooning Lecuona’s “Yo te quiero siempre (‘I’ll Keep On Loving You’).” Let that be a clarion call to South Florida’s large and enthusiastic Latin music community to get ready for a rousing good time.
Bringing more Hispanic power, Mexican singer Edna Vázquez will accompany herself on the guitar. Her voice glides over notes with a viola’s plaintiveness or breaks out with a brassy roar in original songs—“Sola soy (‘Alone Am I’),” for instance, is a personal cry for authenticity—and the deftly reinterpreted standards she treasures.