What do Beck, Jay-Z, Pantera and Radiohead have in common? For one, they’re all artists that orchestral ensemble Portland Cello Project (PCP) cover in their performances.
While the 10-piece classical collective dedicates as much time to their favorite pop covers as they do original compositions, founding cellist Douglas Jenkins promises it’s much more than just a shtick.
“We don’t want it to be a gimmick,” he said. “The idea, from early on, was to make everything the highest quality possible. All good music has something special in its core. No matter what it is, if you can find that spirit, pull it out, and keep it quality so that people of all backgrounds accept it, that’s the trick. And that’s the line we’ve been trying walk this whole time.”
The band started in 2006 when Jenkins and other classically trained Portland cellists -- like Zoe Keating and Tony Rogers -- got together and, for lack of a better term, started “jamming.”
“It was a confluence of cellists,” said Jenkins. “We all played music other than classical and had all moved to Portland around the same time. Tony invited people to his house all the time to play and have a few beers. One night we decided to take it to the bars. Not really a unique idea, but we did. Eventually, it moved away from only classical music to what it is now. We just wanted to break down barriers and play for whatever community we could.”
Soon the group was signed to indie label Kill Rock Stars and providing a creative outlet -- as well as touring opportunities -- for a constantly revolving cast of classically trained musicians. And for Jenkins, who spent his youth steeped in as much Minor Threat as Mozart, it offered the chance to do something much more.
“We want to bridge things together,” he said. “You and I may have diverse record collections, but I don’t think we’re the only people like that. Everybody likes good music. Our goal is to bring all of those communities together. We don’t want any of the brick walls staying up.”
It seems to be working. Portland Cello Project performances are drawing an ever-widening set of diverse fans – all to the delight of the musicians.
“You name it and we get it,” said Jenkins. “We see all ages and backgrounds and it's actually become one of the most fun things about it. You meet so many different kinds of people and they’re all sitting next to each other nodding their heads. It’s great.”
The travelling troupe will be joined by fellow Portlanders the Alialujah Choir when they perform at the Luce Loft on Friday night. And it’s certain they’ll play a few selections from Beck’s Song Reader, something they’ve recently recorded and released in its entirety.
After they’ve finished with Beck, there’s talk of doing an all-Ozzy show and perhaps even an all-Fugazi album. But that will all have to wait. The collective is sitting on an entire album of original compositions that needs to be released first.
“Really, this is just fun,” said Jenkins. “I feel lucky to be able to do this. And that’s it’s caught on. We just want to try and bring some good life to it. But there’s just no end to inspirations past, present or future.”
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com