Hang on to your Martini

by Mia van der Merwe

A sip of Pink Martini, the 12 piece Americanlittle orchestra”, has the content to transport listeners to a setting of cocktail lounges and 1940′s romance.

The multi-lingual group from Portland, Oregon continues to transcend the genres of jazz, lounge, world music and old-fashioned pop in their second album, Hang on Little Tomato. This work of art, released in 2004, is filled with the sweet flavours of English, Spanish, Italian, French, Croatian and Japanese melodies. It is the background music of a world café.

Pianist and founder, Thomas Lauderdale, started Pink Martini in 1994 and lead vocalist China Forbes joined him shortly after. In 1997 they released their debut and most popular album Sympathique on the band’s own label (Heinz Records), selling 975 000 copies worldwide. Hang on Little Tomato, their second album, followed shortly on its heals selling over 700 000 copies, reaching number one on Amazon.com and going gold in France, Canada, Greece and Turkey.

Referred to, by Pink Martini, as a dance sequence from the 1950 Italian film Anna; Hang on Little Tomato succeeds as a multi-lingual musical one can salsa or relax to. Some of the popular tracks like Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love and Lilly shape the musical mould of their easy listening genre. The most popular track, Hang on Little Tomato, has the quirky type of melody one would expect in the scene of a late 1930’s Laurel and Hardy show.

For fans who prefer upbeat tracks like Anna (El Negro Zumbon), certain songs on this album may be too slow paced and morbid for the salsa class. This includes the classical number Song of the Black Swan and the jazzy piece Veronique. The Italian Aspettami, with a hint of Spanish guitar and Autrefois, with its sensual French allure should also be kept for a rainy day.

Out of the 14 tracks, most of the songs were originally produced by the band, although reworked pieces like Una Notte a Napoli are included. They also collaborated and recorded in Japan with Hiroshi Wada, the slide guitarist whose group originally recorded and released the track Kikuchiyo to Mohshimasu.

This album is a language lesson which explains love and sorrow within its lyrics. Most of the slow and relaxed melodies go hand in hand with these matters of the heart. However, in tracks like Lilly and Hang on Little Tomato, the upbeat and quirky music breaks away from your typical genre of love songs. Lauderdale classifies it as entirely romantic, expressing hope and eternal optimism, while still recognizing that there is a great amount of sadness in the world.

After Hang on Little Tomato, Pink Martini released 2 other albums: Hey Eugene (2007) and Splendor in the Grass (2009). If the vocals of lead singer China Forbes strum at the strings of your heart, take a look at her acoustic style solo album ‘78, released in 2008.  

Lauderdale refers to their group as musical archaeologists, bringing melodies and rhythms from different parts of the world together, creating something modern. Hang on Little Tomato is no exception. With its modern twist on an old-fashioned style, anyone anywhere can sit back and enjoy an “aperitif” before indulging into an experience of cultures beyond there own. Travelling the world has never been this easy.

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China Forbes, photographed by Alicia J. Rose (flickr)

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