When Pink Martini lead singer/ diva China Forbes had to take an extended leave of absence to undergo vocal cord surgery, the fix seemed easy enough: Call in another Portland diva, Storm Large. But when Large came down with an illness that curtailed her singing just a week ago, then it could have been freak out time.
Luckily, bandleader Thomas Lauderdale is as cool under pressure as his worldy songs are timeless. Lauderdale called in Lucy Woodward, who had five days to learn several tunes, he said as he introduced her after the first song Wednesday night. Five days! And Woodward pulled off the set in style, beginning with Doris Day’s “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.”
Throughout the evening Woodward was relieved from singing duties to make way for the beautiful crooning of singer and percussionist Timothy Nishimoto and trombonist Robert Taylor, who both helped add eclectic flares to the performance.
The music oscillated from upbeat Cubano soul on “Donde Estas, Yolando” to what Lauderdale called the classical portion of the concert, which included the second movement of one of Mozart’s violin concertos (Lauderdale didn’t say which one, and I couldn’t recognize it either). For the latter, I have never seen an amphitheater so attentive and quite. That’s not to say the audience was that way the entire evening.
Things got spicy with “And You’re Gone,” a tune that sounded like Schubert-meets-Havana-Nights. And to follow, as Pink Martini is wont to do, they wrote an original as a retort, but from the perspective of the previous song’s antagonist--a womanizer named Lorenzo--and put it to a swing. The first set ended with “Congratulations (A New Year Song),” sung in Japanese, off of their most recent release, a holiday compilation from 2010, Joy To the World.
It’s also worth noting that not only does the classy ensemble put on a warming show, when Lauderdale tells stories into the mic between songs, it has the feel that you are right there at a small, private fundraiser in Portland--how the band got it’s start. And not only is he bantering and telling jokes, but he speaks of descending chromatics and whatnots like he truly believes the audience is musically savvy; there’s a mutual respect that is easily felt there.
After a long break, the second set highlight was a joyous, dancy Turkish tune, where Lauderdale invited anyone of, or at least pretending to be of, Turkish decent to sing and dance along onstage. And with an invitation from Woodward, the crowd also responded and finally got up from their chairs to dance a bit. Pink Martini encored with Frank Sinatra’s “Brazil,” thusly taking us on a quick venture around the world and without the price of airfare. CW