The Pacific Northwest is the home of unparalleled magic. In the misty foothills of the Cascade Mountains lurks Bigfoot, a love for an airport’s retired carpet, and a fervent following for men and women’s professional soccer. Portland is currently at the forefront of popular culture with the likes of Hulu’s Shrill (season 2 just came out) and ABC’s Stumptown currently airing. Nicknamed the Rose City, Portland has secured itself as a city of innovation, creativity, and much like the frontiersmen who tackled the West, blazing a trail where there wasn’t one before.
Notable musical trailblazers include Pink Martini, known as “Oregon’s Little Orchestra,” a 13 piece live band that includes a variety of brass, horn, percussion, stringed instruments and a baby grand piano, that 13 is in fact a luck number. Pink Martini infuses the international sounds of Latin music, jazz, classical, pop, into a repertoire of songs in 25 languages across more than seven studio albums and a handful of EPs. Pink Martini delivers a chance to experience the multicultural sounds of the world without a passport.
Since their inception twenty-five years ago, Pink Martini has performed at Cannes and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, worked with the original cast of Sesame Street and The von Trapps- the great-grandchildren of Maria and Captain von Trapp of Sound of Music fame, and covered songs by Charlie Chaplin, Doris Day, and Dean Martin. Their discography is jam packed with music fitting for a black tie cocktail party or summer concerts on the lawn. With their wide spanse of covers, they are also and ultimate cover band due to how much the group interprets and reworks the original material to make it unique to the Pink Martini sound.
No strangers to collaboration in any capacity, Pink Martini’s most recent release features the talents of Edna Vasquez – hailing from the same region of Mexico that gave birth to mariachi music, Vasquez settled in Portland as a teenager and gracefully acclimated to the Pacific Northwest musical landscape. Composed entirely in Spanish, the collaborative EP improves with a little translation.
The first track and EP title, Besame Mucho, translates to “Kiss me a lot” and is an old classic Mexican bolero (think Spanish ballroom music). Followed by “Sola Soy,” or “I am alone” is an original song by Vasquez. Track three, Lo que pasó, pasó, translates to “What’s Past, Is Past”. Next, Te he visto pasar, or “I’ve Seen You Passing By” is the third original piece. And finally, another old classic Quizás, quizás, quizás rounds out the selection. Hailing from Cuba, the last track translates to “Perhaps, Perhaps, perhaps” and has been part of Pink Martini’s music repertoire for years.
In short, the album is greater than the sum of its parts. Besame Mucho brings Pink Martini and Edna Vasquez together for a release that flawlessly achieves what it sets out to do: the track listing highlights every strength brought to the table by the little orchestra and its chosen voice. Vasquez’s delivery is vibrant, fearless, and soulful, in league with titans like Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. The recording matches her intensity and precision, both musically and vocally, with Pink Martini’s arrangement and expansive instrumentation rounding out the sound. Flirtatious strings and horns compliment Vasquez’s superb vocal ability while complimenting Pink Martini’s long history of multiculturalism and shining a spotlight on other musicians to help widen exposure. The future is bright as the band enters its quarter-centennial.
An easy repeat, Besame Mucho is as much a delight on the 100th listen as it is on the second and third. It’s easy listening fit for background noise at work or a candle lit dinner for an anniversary without being pretentious. The weakest point of the album is that there isn’t more collaboration from two such magical Portland powerhouses, but a worthwhile concession for a knockout listening experience.