Review: Pink Martini brings the party onto the stage

11:24 PM, Jun 21, 2013

Pink Martini was the opening night headliner at the Rochester jazz festival. See a video about Eastman Theatre and the show at DemocratandChronicle.com/jazz. (ANNETTE LEIN//Staff photographer)/


Written By Leah Stacy

Nine men in tailored suits, all with instruments, and one female cellist dressed in black, her sparkling strapping sandals catching the purple lights, take the stage, and you think you’re in for a pretty staid night.

More coverage: Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival | Photos

Then enters vocalist China Forbes, singing “Amado Mio,” and the ensemble comes to life.

The Portland-based ensemble, opening night headliner for the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, then comes to life and gives you a whirlwind sampling of the world — transporting you from the sweaty, roaring jazz clubs of 1920s New York City, to the elegant Champs-Elysees with tunes like “Sympathique.”

Forbes, a tall brunette,with a smart bob and billowy coral gown, is encrusted with enough jewels to draw Holly Golightly away from the windows of Tiffany’s. Even Forbes’ impressive four-inch heels gleam with tiny crystals. She’s a seductive presence, shimmying and sliding across the stage — so natural that you almost don’t believe her when she sings, “Amado mio/It was just a phrase/That I heard in plays/I was acting a part.” Her mastery of pronunciation as she sings such a large variety of languages is astounding.

There’s so much talent at work in Pink Martini that it’s hard to know where to focus first. Take cellist Pansy Chang’s haunting work during “U Plavu Zoru (In the Blue Dawn),” a Croatian piece that tells the story of a train ride to a far land. Percussionist Timothy Nishimoto lends very pleasant vocals for song off 1969, a collaboration with Japanese singer Saori Yuki.

Pink Martini would not exist without the mastery that is Thomas Lauderdale. He’s easy to bypass for the glamorous Forbes or the striking percussionists, but once you begin to watch his joyful piano thumping, you can’t look away. Dressed in a checkered bow tie, Lauderdale beams as he plays and swigs a large bottle of Pellegrino between songs.

He has a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He invites the audience to dance with the band; almost 40 people take him up on the invite this night. One of the women, dressed in a feather headdress, is so compelling that she seems to snag the spotlight from Pink Martini. When people return to their seats, Lauderdale laughs and ventures, “Did we just get in big trouble?”

Probably,” answers Forbes.

On they play, ending with a crowd-rousing encore of “Brazil” and instigating a conga line led by their new friend in the feather headdress.

A Pink Martini concert is like going around the world in 80 minutes. And after experiencing it once, you’re likely to have this particular case of wanderlust forever.