According to NPR’s Stephen Thompson, Pink Martini is showing off with their most recent album, Je Dis Oui! This collection of songs is a tour around the globe with music in eight different languages — English, French, Farsi, Armenian, Portuguese, Arabic, Turkish and, in a cover of Miriam Makeba’s glorious “Pata Pata,” Xhosa.
All of this is accomplished with their customary cosmopolitan sophistication and pop playfulness. Except, this album is anything but pop. Oh, there are refrains that will stay with you long after the final note has played, but this music is so rich, eclectic and unique it could never fall under the narrow category of pop. Everything the 15-piece Portland band touches has an air of precision, but these surprising songs don’t feel sterile or studio-bound, either.
What they do make you feel is engaged as a story seems to evolve from each carefully crafted piece of music. From the almost tangos to the variety of pop-like rhythms, this album leads you on a movie soundtrack type of adventure. There is a warm familiarity to many of these pieces, like visiting an old friend who is as bright, fresh and intriguing as ever.
It helps that Pink Martini spreads its vocal duties around, well beyond singers China Forbes and Storm Large. Rufus Wainwright, a natural guest participant in this technicolor spectacle, turns up to sing “Blue Moon,” while a seemingly less-natural collaborator, fashion icon Ikram Goldman, takes the lead in “Al Bint Al Shalabiya.” Portland civil-rights activist Kathleen Saadat lends growling power to “Love For Sale,” while NPR’s own Ari Shapiro — who’s been popping up on Pink Martini records dating back to 2009’s Splendor In The Grass — returns to sing lead in “Finnisma Di.”
Pink Martini founder and bandleader Thomas Lauderdale has been carrying out this vision since 1994, during which time the group has performed worldwide, often with full orchestras for back-up. His ageless music has only gotten bolder and more far-reaching on the nine albums Pink Martini has made, while never shedding the sense of joy around which its sound revolves.
Stephen Thompson is an editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he writes the advice column The Good Listener, fusses over the placement of commas and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered.
Pink Martini, Je Dis Oui! photo courtesy of the artist