“Oh, the redhead said you shred the cello, and I’m jello baby…”
The cello has been called one of the sexiest instruments ever created. The instrument itself is as shapely as a woman’s body should be, and in turn needs to be handled just as delicately. The sound that the cello creates is deep, haunting and sometimes melancholic, but always romantic. And when Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach’s prelude to the Cello Suite No. 1, or even “Air on a G String,” one is easily moved and perhaps even shaken to their emotional core. I have no doubt that the members of the Portland Cello Project have similar feelings about their chosen instruments. (Though I might have to make a valiant effort in making my case for the banjo being the sexiest instrument ever. I know I’d lose, but it’s worth the fight).
Douglas Jenkins is the man behind the PCP, and before one sends out a swat team looking for a Portland meth-lab, let me first say that there’s no way Jenkins didn’t have that acronym in mind when coming up with a moniker for his collective of string aficionados. You see, the Portland Cello Project uses their own classical training as a foundation, then twists it for their own joy in the playfulness of music, classical, modern or somewhere in between. Just as they could play and most likely have played the above pieces written for cello by Bach, they also play various tracks from Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Salt n Pepa and the Danny Elfman Batman theme. I’m guessing there’s not anything out there as sexy as a cello version of “What Goes Around.” (Though they might need a banjo for that repeated phrasing at the intro).
On this album, which might find most standers-by wondering how a cello collective ended up on Kill Rock Stars, the PCP collaborate with Thao Nguyen (of Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down) and local unsung hero, Justin Power (who I’m sure everyone will find out about very soon). Each of the guests take on four songs with “Tallymarks” and “Violet” being the standouts for Thao, whose soulful, folky voice seems to fit perfectly with this ensemble. Justin Power is someone from whom I would like to hear more. His “Seeds May Fall” and “Travel” seem to evoke the spirit of two magnificent figures in indie folk, Sufjan Stevens and Andrew Bird. “Travel,” in particular, is mesmerizing.
But, it’s not just all about the guests as the hosts show their chops on several songs. John Tavener’s 1985 composition, “The Lamb” opens up the festivities in a sober and somber fashion, but then the PCP go for the jugular with their whimsical cover of Pantera’s “Mouth for War.” Many might recognize the track “Por Una Cabeza,” by the King of Tango, Carlos Gardel, from its inclusion in the now infamous scene from Scent of a Woman. Jenkins and his crew tackle the romantic song gracefully and masterfully, capturing all the drama without sparing any of the passion. The final instrumental, the penultimate track before “Travel” (I can’t stop talking about that song!), is a cover of a song by local favorites Norfolk and Western, and goes to show the reverence Portland musicians have for each other. Does every musician in Portland know each other?
I’m kind of sad to have requested this album to review. I’m mostly disappointed in myself for not having claimed it earlier. You see, I got the disc, and became privy to their prowess and skill only after they played at the Triple Door in Seattle. I missed it. I’ve heard tell that the PCP’s music is best heard live, and judging from how much I enjoyed the recorded version, I’m sure it would have been quite the experience. But, just like the delicate curves of a woman, the sounds of the cello will never go out of style, and I can only hope they’ll be back.
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