In a world where eclectic is the new normal, and every day more and more exotic sounds find their way into the mainstream, Pink Martini occupies a cozy spot on the farthest horizon, not just over the rainbow, but beyond the sun, the moon, and the stars in a galaxy where Chinese pop, Farsi ballads, singing NPR journalists, Rufus Wainwright, and Phyllis Diller all make themselves comfortable. Thanks to pianist/maestro Thomas Lauderdale, his little big band, and the good folks at UCSB Arts & Lectures, this holiday season in Santa Barbara will start off with a fantastic party at the Arlington Theatre. There, fans will be treated to an evening filled with music that is by turns familiar, startling, and nearly unimaginable. Despite the immense range of variation, one common thread binds together Pink Martini’s vast array of musical styles, and that’s an exquisite sense of pleasure in difference — a sensitivity to the context and cultural weight of a song that’s nothing short of amazing.
The latest Pink Martini album, Get Happy, was released in late September this year, and it may be their best yet. Anchored by Lauderdale’s piano and arrangements, Get Happy features not only the group’s two star vocalists, China Forbes and Storm Large, but also guest spots by Rufus Wainwright, cabaret star Meow Meow, NPR reporter Ari Shapiro, and Phyllis Diller. “Smile,” the Charlie Chaplin–penned standard that closes the album, was recorded in Los Angeles shortly before Diller’s death and was widely featured in media tributes to the great comedian. The tone of the entire set combines wistfulness with hope in a way that “Smile” crystallizes. As Lauderdale puts it, these songs are “uplifting … but in a devastating sort of way.” But don’t be kept away from the concert by the threat of some kind of seasonal affective disorder. Pink Martini also has an excellent and fittingly unusual holiday album to draw on. It’s called Joy to the World, and you can be sure that with Pink Martini involved, when they say “world,” they mean it.
Pink Martini plays the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.) on Thursday, December 5, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu for tickets and info.