''I can't describe what Pink Martini is going to do," said Keith Lockhart last night. ''But I know you're going to love them."
Many people in the audience already did -- some of the musicians have local connections, and all four of Pink Martini's Pops dates this week have sold out. Before the group had finished its set last night, people were out of their seats and dancing, wreathing a conga line through the aisles.
Pink Martini consists of 12 musicians, including the founding pianist Thomas M. Lauderdale, who favors a Bart Simpson look. They play and sing a period repertory, all the way from Lecuona's immortal intermediate piano-recital favorite ''Malaguena" (1927) and an arrangement of Ravel's ''Bolero" (1928) up to ''Amado mio," lip-syched by screen siren Rita Hayworth in ''Gilda" (1946), and some pieces written in retro style by members of the group. One of these, ''Sympathique," lends its title to the group's first self-produced album, which has sold an astonishing 750,000 copies. This reworks the sentiment of Francis Poulenc's famous song ''L'Hotel" (''I don't want to work/I'd rather smoke"), but without the langor; it's upbeat.
In short, these are savvy musicians. Think of Dorothy Kirsten's immortal 10-inch Columbia LP, ''Tropical Love Songs" with Russell Case and his Orchestra, add a dash of Edith Piaf, and you'll get the idea. The appeal lies in the performers, the melodies, and most of all in the infectious rhythms. The group lays down a heavy rhythm track delivered by amped-up percussion that gives these oldies a contemporary feel: five of the musicians are percussionists, and many of the others thwack away at something when they are not singing or playing. The trombonist (Jeff Budin) and trumpeter (Gavin Bondy) are terrific, and so is Lauderdale, romping up and down a tinnily amplified piano. The vocalist China Forbes has a smoky purr in her tone, and she knows how to roll an r through a French or Spanish lyric. She also knows how to flaunt a slinky dress and make all the right moves inside it.
The only problem was that Pink Martini's arrangements for orchestral concerts belong in the Dumpster. There was nothing interactive about them; you could see the Pops players, but you couldn't hear them, and that was a waste. Fortunately Lockhart and the orchestra had the first half of the program to themselves.