Sunshine and tunes
by Brett Campbell
If a picture is worth 1000 words, then what’s the picture on the new Portland Cello Project CD, Thousand Words, worth? Answer: Both disk and cover (depicting the band standing in front of Portland’s Fremont Bridge) illustrate how the ever-changing ensemble bridges the worlds of classical and pop music. PCP won its national reputation by covering pop songs (“Look, they’re doing Beyonce / Britney / Zeppelin / Guns N’ Roses / etc. — on cellos!”) and collaborating with indie rockers. But cofounder and UO alum Douglas Jenkins’ inventive arrangements, the band’s genuine affection for both pop and classical influences and now some striking original compositions show PCP to be much more than a gimmick.
Although it sports only one actual “classical” work (Gabriel Faure’s famous “Elegy”), PCP’s third and most ambitious album feels more classical than the band’s previous efforts, mostly due to its poignant centerpiece: Decemberist percussionist Rachel Blumberg’s gorgeous tripartite suite The Dream (dedicated to the memory of her mother, Portland cello teacher Naomi Blumberg), which expresses its ambition not through sophisticated compositional techniques but rather in employing memorable, related tunes to express distinct moods. The elegiac feel also permeates Gideon Freudmann’s dirge, “Denmark,” and the late, great Portlander Elliott Smith cover (the somber, previously unreleased “Taking a Fall”), the result of “genuine catharsis,” over various personal losses, says cofounder and arranger Douglas Jenkins, who contributes a plaintive composition, “1516.” But although this album is PCP’s darkest, it’s hardly a bummer-fest, punched up by a slick arrangement of the theme from the videogame Halo, a Rihanna cover (“Hard,” with NYC beatboxer Adam Matta replacing Jeezy), Skip vonKuske’s delicious mashup of Paul Desmond’s Brubeck Quartet classic “Take Five” with Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme, and the disk’s open-road highlight, “Broken Crowns,” by Ashia Grzesik, who’s supplied some fine music to various Portland stages. The band and various guests will perform all the music from the album as well as an assortment of new Jenkins arrangements of pop dance tunes at Cozmic Pizza on Saturday, July 10.
The long overdue (if still uncertain) return of sunshine has made the area feel almost tropical lately, so on July 10, you can safely don that Hawaiian shirt and head over to the LCC performance hall to catch the Berkeley-based slack key guitarist Patrick Landeza, the local hula troupe Halau Hula O Na Pua O Hawaii Nei, and the Iron Mango Orchestra augmented by a flock of ukuleles, in an evening of Hawaiian music and dance sponsored by the cultural organization Mele `Ohana of Oregon. Or, if you venture over to Corvallis’s always enlightening Da Vinci Days, you can hear sizzling modern Latin sounds (cumbia, salsa, son) and more, delivered by the Austin dectet Grupo Fantasma, which has won worldwide acclaim and even backed Prince. And on July 15, you can imbibe the breezy Brazilian jazz of Portland-based pianist/singer Bill Beach, who brings his trio to Granary Pizza. For more Oregon jazz, try the updated ‘70s fusion/funk sound of Eugene’s own Forever Growing, who perform on July 10 (lotta good music that night) at Cornucopia.
Of course, the Bach Festival continues to bring its manifold riches this week, as detailed in our guide (6/17). But let me draw special attention to this Thursday’s Portland Baroque Orchestra performance of J.S. Bach’s orchestral suites. Even if you’ve heard this familiar music before, go: it’s a revelation to hear some of the most famous classical music ever written performed on the kinds of instruments, and in the tunings and performance styles the composer intended — far superior to the OBF’s regular modern interpretations, especially in the ideal intimacy of the UO’s Beall Concert Hall. PBO’s Gonzalo Ruiz’s recent reconstruction of the original version of the famous second suite, which gives the lead to his oboe, absolutely slays the popular later flute version recently performed by the Oregon Mozart Players. Oboes also spring to the fore in the brilliant original version of the fourth suite, which jettisons the later added trumpets and timpani. These lithe originals sound far more natural than their awkward later incarnations, and the whole set positively radiates PBO’s characteristic brisk, rhythmic buoyancy and transparent sound, never forgetting that this magnificent music originated in dance.