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Straight Up With a Twist 

Pink Martini

Wednesday, Sep 22 1999
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It would be shortsighted to dismiss Pink Martini as nothing more than Cocktail Nation kitsch, even if the group's album Sympathique is comprised of lounge standards like "Never on Sunday." For one thing, the 10- to 14-member Portland collaborative sounds more like a small but polished symphony than a pack of smug hipsters, and its treatment of the music is essentially irony free. Bandleader Thomas Lauderdale, a classically trained pianist, originally put the group together on a whim to play a political fund-raiser, but the initial camp factor (TV themes, Lauderdale in little black dresses) diminished as the outfit grew from a quartet to its present incarnation. In Portland, where cocktails and music regularly help combat cabin fever, they were embraced so warmly that the band found itself in the unprecedented position of playing its record release party at the hallowed Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Determined to form a band that both could appreciate and expand on cocktailia and cabaret, Lauderdale enlisted professional vocalist China Forbes (a Harvard classmate) and musicians whose résumés listed anything from local rock bands to the Seattle Symphony. Given their range of influences, Sympathique is surprisingly smooth. Arrangements are lush, multilingual, and musically divergent, from the percolating Latin jazz percussion of "Andalucia" and "Bolero"'s soaring strings to Forbes' world-weary French balladry on the title track. Pink Martini's finest departure from tradition is its dirgelike "Que Sera Sera," led by Forbes' impression of Doris Day haunted by demons. 3 Leg Torso opens for Pink Martini at 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $10-12; call 885-0750.

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Heather Wisner

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