Arguably from Nirvana: Unplugged and certainly since the advent of Apocalyptica, in which concert cellists play Metallica arrangements, the use of the cello in non-classical contexts is less a mind-blowing incongruity than a familiar quirk, like cilantro or social anxiety disorder. That stuff seemed crazy in the '90s but it's barely novel now. Fortunately, the Portland Cello Project is not a novelty outfit.
Thousand Words assumes that you already have a few cello albums. There is little trace of the stunty, how'd-they-do-that bravura that has made similar projects amazing on the first listen and boring after that. Instead, PCP invests itself in arrangements that prioritize visceral impact over technical display. Their light, jaunty rendition of "Take 5" is as danceable as any version I've heard, and "Hard" is heavy, even though but maybe also because it's constructed around some dude beat-boxing.
It's called "The Portland Cello Project," so we're not going to reduce the gimmickry content to absolute zero. For the most part, though, PCP puts the music first and the mission second. From a group that could probably slide by on concept alone, it's a refreshing surprise.
The Portland Cello Project plays the Top Hat Thursday, July 28, at 10 PM. $3.