On Little Tomato' is the band's second CD
of a Pink Martini Christmas
what we'd like to believe, the holidays are often less than happy
and more about survival. Yet sometimes something unforeseen happens
and we're sustained with abundant memories for years to come.
lively musical signature: Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes
planted Pink Martini's seeds in 1988. ["P.M.," by
I'm dreaming of a Pink Martini Christmas, just like
the one seven years ago.
That year, 1997, was when Pink Martini did all my
shopping. Everybody on my list mom, dad, relatives, co-workers
and friends got Sympathique, the Portland band's first
It was newly released and selling for ten bucks at
Everyday Music on Sandy Boulevard. I strolled in, spotted it on
display and took one home. The next day I went back for a dozen
A few days later I landed in Minnesota and Pink Martini
parties began breaking out all around me.
Sympathique has gone on to sell upwards of
650,000 copies around the world and it still sounds flawless
an exotic, elegant, play-it-again party.
That '97 holiday came to mind with the recent release
of the band's long-delayed second album, Hang On Little Tomato.
And while seven years is forever in show business, neither of the
Pink Martini albums happened overnight.
It was back in 1988, according to local lore, when
Thomas Lauderdale, a piano-playing former student-body president
from Portland's Grant High, forged a musical bond while attending
Harvard with a theatrical, operatic East Coast housemate named China
Lauderdale returned to Portland and put together Pink
Martini in '94 as a fund-raising one-off project. Instead, the band
caught on. Forbes came aboard a few years later. Then, in '97, out
came Sympathique. Now in their second decade as Pink Martini,
Lauderdale, Forbes and a liquid lineup of classically trained bandmates
have become Portland's graceful, lively musical signature.
The band's sound fuses jazz, classical, pop, Latin
and fun. Lauderdale works the grand piano while a dozen others brandish
varying combinations of trumpets, trombones, violins, cellos, bass,
guitar and percussion. Songs are sung in a wide variety of languages
and Forbes's singing is pleasingly uncomplicated. Things start somewhere
near the 1920s and cut a wide swath through to today.
And, as good as the recorded versions are, a Pink
Martini concert often displays the band at its best. Whether touring
the states and sharing stages with civic orchestras or working their
way around the world as a self-contained unit, the band's live show
gives off a sound that wraps around you and lends the recordings
an added mystique.
Sympathique can still be heard in movies and
on TV and is probably more popular in Europe than at home. The album
brightens a background or fills up a room, stands up to microscopic
inspection and promotes repeated play. Throughout its seven-year
run in Portland, Sympathique has gone from cutting-edge cool,
to unavoidable soundtrack in local restaurants and shops, to passé,
then back again to cool.
and son: up top is said to be Pink Martini's founder. (Try the
The new album, Hang On Little Tomato, is also
Lauderdale, Forbes and various co-conspirators wrote
75 percent of the new material (on Sympathique, 75 percent
was other people's songs). And, to the band's everlasting credit,
those new compositions are timeless, sophisticated and accomplished.
Still, while "U Plavu Zoru" is a standout,
little else approaches the rarefied heights of the first album.
Sad to say, Hang On Little Tomato seems doomed to be forever
linked with phrases such as "... but it's not as good as Sympathique."
Lauderdale has told local media that Little Tomato
had been completed and scrapped more than once; that the notion
of a follow-up to Sympathique was incredibly difficult; that
the next two albums the third more poppy and the fourth more
symphonic are already fairly far along.
So instead of more damning faint praise for Little
Tomato, let's try a metaphor. Imagine the Red Sox winning next
year's World Series. That would certainly be interesting and exciting
and probably even fun especially for the people of Boston.
But it could never approach the earthshaking drama of this year's
first album has sold upwards of 650,000 copies since 1997.
Now, as shopping days dwindle, my advice is pretty
simple: If you've never heard Pink Martini, get Sympathique.
If you've heard it and read this far, try Hang On Little Tomato.
And either way, you can't go wrong with both.
Because no matter who you are or where you live, you've
got an aunt or a cousin or a boss or a spouse or a friend who's
nearly impossible to please. Once the wrapping comes off, you never
know what might happen.
Have yourself a Pink Martini Christmas. May this be
the year where everybody says, "Hey, thanks
for the gift" and means it.