Portland Cello Project – A Thousand Words – Portland Cello Project PCP003, 47.1 min. *****:
(11 cellists + 3 percussionists, 1 guitarist, vibes, marimba & beatbox; Douglas Jenkins, dir.)
Joan Jeanrenaud & PC Munoz – Pop-Pop – DeconetRecords.com, 37.4 min. ****:
(Jeanrenaud – acoustic and electric celli, effects; Munoz – electronic and acoustic drums and percussion)
A number of cellists have been striking out on their own, far from the usual concert and chamber music halls. Here in Portland the classically-trained cellists of the Cello Project make their talents accessible to a wide variety of guests from the pop, jazz, rap, folk and avant worlds, and bring their instruments into places where you wouldn’t normally see cellos. They have performed with a wide spectrum of Portland musicians of all sorts.
Not being strongly into vocals or pop music, I can’t say I’ve been bowled over by previous Portland Cello Project CDs, but this one is entirely instrumental and I’m hooked. There are exciting arrangements of such familiar fare as Paul Desmond’s Take Five and Faure’s Elegie, transcriptions of what may be rock tunes due to their violent demeanor (such as Halo) and some fine originals for the massed cellos – including a three-movement work by Rachel Blumberg titled The Dream.
Douglas Jenkins is the mover and shaker behind the Cello Project, and he contributes an original piece in 16th century style titled 1516, as well as arranging three of the other selections. Hard is the beatbox selection, with vocal and percussive sounds by Adam Matta. The closing Faure Elegie is by far the most beautiful version of this classical hit I have ever heard. The sound of massed cellos has always had a special appeal for me, and this CD to my ears sounds like the current flagship recording of the familiar cello’s new crossover personality.
Cellist Joan Jeanrenaud has been delving into a variety of more and more avant-garde project since she departed from the Kronos Quartet years ago. She even did live solo improvisations with the Rova Saxophone Quartet. She also moved more into composing, and all ten tracks on this new CD are her own works, created in collaboration with an art-funk percussionist/beatmaker named PC Munoz. Her previous solo CD – Strange Toys – had a couple tracks working with repetitive beats, and this time she wanted to work with pop-song structures. The idea is to create a sort of 21st-century sound by mixing both acoustic and electric celli – sometimes overdubbed to created as many as six celli – plus Chinese drum and other unusual percussive elements, with skittering electro-funk beats.
Some of the tracks conjure up contemporary avant music such as Steve Reich or Philip Glass, while others are rife with hip-hop and Devo-sounding electronic material. I support efforts of cross-pollination of genres, but due to my particular generation, I’m afraid I don’t include hip-hop, rap and house music. Those whose musical tastes are more diverse than mine would probably enjoy this creative duo’s efforts, though.
TrackList: Thousand Words – Denmark, Halo, Broken Crowns, Take 5 (Desmond), Taking a Fall, 1516, The Dream: A Piece in Three Movements, Hard, Elégie (Faure)
TrackList: Pop-Pop – 33 ⅓, Noise, Where’s Raymond?, Panama Canal, Reveille, Snake, Helicopter, Hopper, Drive, FreakBeat
– John Sunier