Portland collective takes an all-cello approach to everything from Bach to Balkan to Britney.
With a core group of nine cellists and a revolving line-up of an additional twenty players also in the collective’s orbit, the Portland Cello Project’s stated goal is to bring the cello out into their city’s coffee shops and rock clubs and so combat the cello’s image as a stuffy instrument trapped the orchestra hall. Of course, that impression is just a myth -- the cello has become a staple of many indie rock and chamber-pop recordings and live performances, and in fact many members of the Portland Cello Project make their living that way. But the fun these players are having with this project -- which allows them to hopscotch from arrangements of Bach and Mozart to melodic chamber pop to re-interpretations of OutKast and Britney Spears -- is more than evident on their self-titled first recording.
While at some moments the all-cello arrangements can sound like the instrumental equivalent of a college a-capella group, the album’s use of cellos to convey styles as diverse as Balkan folk music (“Divertissements for Performing Bears”) to coffee-shop beat poetry (“Living at the Side of the Why?”) to a cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” that hews more closely to the original than one might expect, is appealingly playful. And on tracks like the excellent “Hands in Pocket”, a collaboration with Portland singer Laura Gibson, the arrangements demonstrate how close an all-cello group can come to the folk and pop its audience is generally accustomed to hearing. Ultimately, the frolicsome and generous approach these players take to their instrument and their varied genres is catching, and makes a listener hope that this type of novel local collective begins to sprout in communities well beyond Portland.