In the pink

Portland 12-piece kicks off the Chico World Music Festival

JUMP AROUND<br>The many members of Pink Martini get loose before a show.

The many members of Pink Martini get loose before a show.

Courtesy Of Pink Martini

During last year’s performance in Chico, Thomas Lauderdale, the leader of 12-piece aggregation Pink Martini, spoke about having spent his pre-performance day browsing the bins at Melody Records, part of his never-ending search for musical rarities.

Just such rarities show up in the Portland ensemble’s repertoire that takes audiences on trips through time and space. When Lauderdale strikes up his orchestra, the music may evoke a dance club in Rio de Janeiro in the 1930s, or a night in Havana when Batista was still in power. And when vocalist China Forbes begins to sing, it’s easy to visualize yourself sitting in a swank Hollywood nightclub on some ‘40s film-noir set.

When I asked Lauderdale if he’d turned up anything interesting on vinyl of late, it wasn’t surprising to hear him rattle off a flurry of records.

“I’m listening to Judy Garland’s Carnegie Hall concert,” he said. “I also recently discovered Los Zafiros, a quartet of singers who do a kind of Cuban doo-wop. And an early Lou Rawls album, Black and Blue, from 1963. The Mahalia Jackson/Duke Ellington collaboration titled Come Sunday is just great. And then there’s Maysa, a Brazilian singer who died in the ‘70s just as her career was about to take off. I love her. Her voice is almost as satisfying to me as the voice of China Forbes, our vocalist. And then there’s the St Joseph’s Maori Girls’ Choir … “

Lauderdale’s globally eclectic love of music makes Pink Martini the perfect ensemble to kick off this weekend’s Chico World Music Festival, an event that will include not-to-be-missed free performances by artists like Eric Bibb, former Chicoan and fiddle wizard Megan Lynch, and our own Big Mo and his blues band.

There’s also fado from Portugal, and other very cool things that fit well with the international repertoire of songs Pink Martini gathers from here, there and everywhere. Forbes sings those songs in Japanese, Greek, French, Spanish, English and just about any other language that wraps itself around a song that draws Lauderdale’s ear.

When they can’t find enough old songs, Forbes and Lauderdale team up to write some lovely music of their own. The title track of the group’s latest, Hey Eugene!, is in English, however, written by Forbes, telling the tale of a guy she met in New York who promised to call her, but never did. She sang the song at Laxson Auditorium last year, and given her beauty and stage presence, the only sane conclusion anyone could draw was that guy who didn’t call her must have been completely nuts.

Pink Martini released its first record, Sympathique, in 1997. It earned the band worldwide acclaim and a nomination for Best New Artist in France’s Victoires de la Musique awards. Lauderdale describes the group as a cross between a Hollywood musical and the United Nations.

“Pink Martini is about creating something beautiful,” he said. “Back when most of this music was first being recorded, back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, there was a goal to make things that were beautiful, things that would last, whether it was a Polaroid Land Camera or a movie like All About Eve. Obviously, it’s a different thing to live in this time than it was to live in the Eisenhower years, but our goal is not to mock anything. My goal is to help make the world more beautiful. Camp and parody doesn’t go very far with me.”

The band is constantly touring, but Lauderdale remembered well the gig they played in Chico last year.

“Melody Records is a terrific record store,” he recalled. “It was a beautiful day when we played Chico the last time, and I loved walking around town. It’s like a perfect hamlet, much like Portland.”

And Pink Martini is coming back bigger than ever, with the success of Hey Eugene!, released earlier this year.

“We love what we do,” Lauderdale says. “It takes great luck to get to play music for a living. It’s a privilege.”