Photo: Chris Hornbecker / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

Pink Martini Expand Their Sound Again on New EPs

On two new EPs, the ever versatile Pink Martini continue their mission of entertaining audiences as they explore the world's variety of musical styles.

Bésame Mucho
Edna Vazquez with Pink Martini
4 October 2019
Jimmie Herrod with Pink Martini
4 October 2019

For 25 years, Pink Martini have been introducing American audiences to international music and international audiences to the American songbook, as well as introducing contemporary audiences to songs from earlier times. On two new EPs, the “little orchestra” introduces two local singers from its home base of Portland, Oregon, added new facets to their persona.

On both EPs, Pink Martini revisit old chestnuts that have been covered often over the years, but the band stay short of kitsch with their precise playing and utter commitment to each song. A song like “Bésame Mucho”, here covered by singer Edna Vazquez drips with a high drama that isn’t often native to our irony-driven times. With her sultry, heavy-lidded delivery and rich alto, Vazquez seems right out of a nightclub scene from a film noir. The retro vibe may evoke nostalgia for simpler, more emotionally direct times, but kitsch? Not for this dame.

On “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps)”, Vazquez covers this 1947 Cuban popular song about an un-committing lover that was eventually bowdlerized into English and recorded by, among others, Desi Arnez in 1948, Doris Day in the 1960s and French supermodel Arielle Dombasle in 2004. With Pink Martini, Vazquez brings some seductive heat back into the song and its original Spanish lyrics: “And days pass like this / Me, growing desperate / And you, you answering / Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.”

“Lo Que Paso, Paso (What Is Past Is Past)” was made famous by the fiery Cuban-born singer La Lupe, the “Queen of Latin Soul”, who became successful in the New York Latin scene in the 1960s. Vazquez brings drama and the macha to the big, sweeping orchestration for a well-done tribute to the tempestuous La Lupe. On “Te He Visto Pasar (I Saw You Passing By)” by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, the ensemble juxtapose a subdued arrangement that simmers to a clave beat with Vazquez’ dramatic singing: “But never again will I forgive our absence your cruel indifference and I want you to know you are dead to me.”

As with pretty much any genre they tackle, Pink Martini conduct a master class in elegant, classic Latin popular music here.

Pink Martini’s EP with singer Jimmie Herrod is also a look back, but in a different retro style, more Broadway than Copacabana. Herrod’s voice is by turns sweet and powerful voice and is given a proper showcase here. In its most theatrical tip of the hat, Herrod and the little orchestra cover “Tomorrow” from the show Annie.

The pop-iest of his tunes is “Tell Him”, first made famous by the appropriately named Exciters in 1963. Here it is a light, fun, reggae-ish rhythm instead of the original’s galloping, 1960s style, and feels like it is missing some of the energy of the original’s teenage angst and urgent vocals. He closes the EP with his show-stopping “Exodus” from the 1960 Otto Preminger film of the same name about the founding of the modern state of Israel.

On both EPs, the versatile Pink Martini continue with their mission of entertaining audiences as they explore the world’s variety of musical styles – an international revue that presents each genre with respect, immaculate playing and powerful vocalists.