Sunday, 23 October 2016

Pink Martini leave the Royal Albert Hall jumping

It’s a rare week indeed when The Other Half and I see two live performances of any variety. But the last few days have gone beyond ‘rare’ and into the downright surreal.

After witnessing a chorus line of tap dancing noses at the Royal Opera House on Thursday, Saturday offered up the sight of his excellency the US ambassador to the court of St James on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, playing the triangle.

But sure enough, friend of the band Matthew Barzun – presumably intending to enjoy a quiet eve-of birthday celebration by watching Pink Martini – had been lured on stage for a number.

And, of course, it gave him the opportunity to call on any compatriots in the 5,000-strong audience to vote next month in the US presidential elections. He didn’t say who they should vote for, but Pink Martini is a big band that describes itself on Twitter thus: “If the United Nations had a house band in 1962, hopefully we'd be it.”

In other words, you might be able to take a guess at the type of people likely to be in attendance.

Along with the moment when the son of Palestinian refugees introduced a song he’d written for the band in Egyptian Arabic – and then hugged the vocalist, Ari Shapiro, who is Jewish – that was it with politics for the night.

These concerts really should be formally described as ‘Pink Martini and friends’, because not only did we get the US ambassador taking part, we were introduced to a young pianist band leader Thomas Lauderdale had just happened to meet, plus Ikram Goldman.

Credited with getting Michelle Obama interested in fashion, Goldman is the hugely influential owner of a high-end boutique in Chicago, but having introduced Lauderdale and co to the Arabic song Al Bint Al Shalabiya, she joined them on stage to sing it.

A brand new album
The band has recently penned three songs for the forthcoming French film, Souvenir – sung on screen by the wonderful Isabelle Huppert and on stage by the equally wonderful China Forbes, one of Pink Martini’s two regular lead vocalists.

And then there was a three-song guest spot by Australian singer-performer-cabaret artist (she defies easy label) Meow Meow, whose initial song, with two unwitting male ‘volunteers’ from the floor of the house, reminded both The Other Half and I of a routine by the late, great Eartha Kitt.

We get a spot of Schubert on the piano as a segueway into a pair of songs about a couple having a row: one from her perspective, one from his (radio journalist and regular guest Shapiro gets the latter of these, after Forbes has given us the first).

A lot of the current material in the concert features on the new album – Je Dis Oui! – which was given it’s global release on the UK leg of this tour.

The Pinks are all superb musicians, from Lauderdale, with his flamboyant style of playing the piano, through the likes of Forbes and percussionist – and occasional vocalist and dancer – Timothy Nishimoto.

This is sophisticated easy listening with a global sensibility.

A fabulous show that had the entire joint jumping by the end, with their marvellous version of Brazil (you can catch a flavour of the final few minutes here), Portland, Oregon’s finest leave you with a wide grin on your face, a spring in your step and optimism in your heart.

For details about more dates (in the UK and elsewhere) visit The new album is available in the UK now, but details of its wider release are also on the band’s website.

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