Pink Martini gives timeless performance at Ann Arbor Summer Festival
I can imagine their mix of classical, jazz, Cuban, swing, and other styles - songs in many different languages - playing on an old scratchy record. The band, formed by classically trained pianist Thomas Lauderdale in the mid-90s, infuses throw-backs to begone eras with modern elements, even hints of pop. They have a timeless quality.
Each individual member of the 11-piece band, known as the "little orchestra," is an island of musical virtuosity. A major strength that the band displayed at their Ann Arbor Summer Festival performance, on Tuesday night, was an ability to fully show off the talents of each individual while very much remaining a cohesive group. During instrument solos, I was enchanted by the skill level of each individual. And the rest of the time, I was impressed by how well the different instruments spoke to each other - there was tight musical communication happening between them.
It also felt like a trip around the world. Singing in a wide variety of languages - English, German, Japanese, French, and the list goes on - the graceful China Forbes's full, clean, and emotive voice translates in any language.
Cellist Pansy Chang's rendition of Croatian song "U Plavu Zoru" was exceptional, an enthralling highlight of the show's first half.
Audience member David Bates, from Ypsilanti, described Chang's playing as "haunting," taking the words right out of my mouth. "It went right through you, grabbed you, and sort of held you and captivated you," Bates shared his opinion at the show.
Another band member who really carried the show, Timothy Nishimoto, sang enjoyable duets with Forbes, including "Mayonaka no Bossa Nova," off Pink Martini's 2011 collaboration with Japanese singer Saori Yuki, 1969. And Nishimoto's performance of "Zundoko Bushi," off their new, forthcoming album Get Happy, was an inspired one as well.
Trumpet solos by Gavin Bondy were another highlight, especially his rendition of Harry James' "Concerto for Trumpet." Throughout the course of the show, each of the 11 band members got chances to shine.
"Each one of them is such a talented musician," Karen Falahee, from Ann Arbor, said at the show. "From the solos, you know that they are all virtuosos, and China's voice is just amazing."
All in all, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival show was a good sampling of Pink Martini's eclectic repertoire. Some were older songs, like the humorous true account of a date Forbes went on, "Hey Eugene," and their very 1st song "Sympathique," which contains lyrics from an Apollinaire poem and became an anthem for striking workers in France.
Songs from their new album "Get Happy," which is set to be released this September, include "Ich dich liebe," a song sung by actress Mamie Van Doren in 1960's German spaghetti western "Freddy und das Lied der Prarie." And they announced that the Ann Arbor Summer Festival show marked the debut of their version of a Rodgers and Hart tune, "She Was Too Good to Me," which was sung by trombone player Robert Taylor.
In the band's 4th Ann Arbor Summer Festival performance, it was obvious that many people in the crowd had seen them before. They applauded the first song as loudly as you usually hear a crowd applaud at the end of the show. Pink Martini did not have to prove themselves. The crowd was ready for their return.
Audience member Richard Primus, from Ann Arbor, came back to see them at the Summer Festival again. "They deploy a lot of talent with great energy and they seem to have a lot of fun with the music," he said at the show.
Beth Wilensky, from Ann Arbor, agreed, adding: "It's fun that they include the audience in their performances, getting everyone clapping, dancing, and participating." Before the intermission, the band invited the audience to run up on stage to swing dance - a rare treat. They had everyone standing and moving during the final song of the night, their interpretation of the famous Brazilian song "Aquarela do Brasil."
I suspect the ending ovation would have been a standing one regardless. From the crowd's reaction, Pink Martini has become an Ann Arbor Summer Festival favorite.