Pink Martini casts its unique big-band lounge sound around the world on the new album Je Dis Oui! The French phrase, meaning “I say yes,” comes from the opening track “Joli Garçon,” and the song’s carpe diem message sets the tone for the whole high-spirited enterprise.
“Joli Garçon” is one of the album’s three numbers from the new Isabelle Huppert film Souvenir, for which Lauderdale and his collaborators provided music. Of these, I especially like the exquisite arrangement of the passion-swept “Fini la Musique.” But French is only one of many languages and cultures explored on this ambitious yet effortless-sounding 15-track collection, the long-running band’s ninth studio album.
Led by pianist Lauderdale and fronted by singers Storm Large (whose solo album I reviewed here), China Forbes, and a number of guest vocalists, the band skips from flighty fare like “The Butterfly Song” to the high-spirited but musically adventurous “Kaj Kolah Khan (The Tough Guy with the Crooked Hat),” the latter sung by Large in Farsi. A trio of male vocalists sing “Ov Sirun Sirun,” a traditional Armenian lament over a betrayal, which features tingly piano fills from Lauderdale and slides to a ghostly major chord at the end.
The Pacific Youth Choir guests on the traditional “Solidão (Canção do Mar),” sung in Spanish by Large. Originally performed by Amália Rodrigues in the 1950s, it gets a full-hearted, loving treatment here.
Ikram Goldman sings a jaunty and surprisingly authentic-sounding version of the Arabic “Al Bint Al Shalabiya,” made famous by Lebanese singer Fairuz. Lauderdale works Chopin into “Finnisma Di,” an unabashedly romantic original song beautifully sung in Arabic by NPR host Ari Shapiro with a lovely contribution from cellist Pansy Chang.
A thrilling take on Turkish singer Belkıs Özener’s “Aşkın Bahardı,” one of my favorite tracks, is another lament for lost love. With sultry lead vocals by Large, it captures traditional Turkish folk rhythms in a rich big-band setting, a fine example of the unique Pink Martini method. The journey sweeps into Africa with Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata,” sung by Forbes in bluesy style in Xhosa and English, with soulful accents from the horn section.
The album does feature a few songs that will be familiar to American listeners. The Harvey Rosencrantz Orchestra, a small string ensemble, is prominent in a haunting, almost funereal version of the Cole Porter classic “Love for Sale,” with throaty vocals by guest singer Kathleen Saadat. A weirdly muted Rufus Wainwright guest stars on a rather pedestrian version of “Blue Moon.” More successfully, Lauderdale arranges Schubert in the closing track, “Serenade,” with two pianos backing Forbes’s lovely wordless rendition of the famous melody.
World music? Sure, call it that. But you don’t need eclectic tastes to enjoy this many-flavored dish. It may trot the globe, but all along it convinces us, if we needed convincing, that home always has been where the heart is.