“1969,” Pink Martini & Saori Yuki (Heinz)
Crafty Pink Martini offers its services to Japanese singer Saori Yuki on “1969” to commemorate the year of her debut release.
The Portland, Ore., band’s relationship with Yuki began years ago when the group’s founder, pianist Thomas Lauderdale, randomly bought one of her albums and eventually recorded a Pink Martini version of her song “Taya Tan” for his act’s 2007 release, “Hey Eugene!” The band eventually met the singer and worked with her a few times before they began recording tracks together for “1969.”
Although the songs throw full spotlight on Yuki’s dextrous vocals delivered in Japanese, French and English, the jazz/lounge-centric instrumentation is thoroughly Pink Martini. The group creates a languid sprawl for her narcotic lullaby “Du Soleil Plein Les Yeux” (“Eyes Full of Sun”), an exotic-symphonic foundation for her expressive, though restrained, show on “Yuuzuki” (“Evening Moon”) and a brassy base for her tasteful showmanship on “Blue Light Yokohama.” And listeners will be craving cocktails during the absorbing “Mayonaka No Bossa Nova” (“Midnight Bossa Nova”) that employs a lively combination of brushed rhythm, vibes, bass, cymbals and strings.
A few experiments don’t click — “Puff, the Magic Dragon” is just too precious, for instance — but most are a fine match for her veteran vocals, including the near-perfect fit of Yuki to a faithful arrangement of the classic Peggy Lee hit “Is That All There Is?”
Some Pink Martini fans may be disappointed that the band’s flavorful vocals are only used in a supporting role here, but they might be placated by the new “Pink Martini: A Retrospective” released simultaneous to “1969.” The 21-song compilation includes alternative recordings of the band’s songs and eight tracks previously unreleased in the United States.
Yet while the retrospective is little more than a scattershot curiosity, “1969” is heavy with substance.
Rating (five possible): 4