CAMBRIDGE — It was fair to wonder if cellist Maya Beiser’s “Uncovered” would be just a pleasant novelty. Whether the 2014 album or the program of that material she performed Friday at Kresge Auditorium, a collection of well-known rock and blues songs arranged mostly for multitracked cello could easily wind up as merely a musical knickknack.
Then you hear it.
Concerns like these evaporated in the concert’s opening blast, a titanic channeling of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” Played in power-trio format with bassist Jherek Bischoff and drummer Matt Kilmer, this wasn’t anything that should be called crossover, cello-rock, or any other portmanteau genre. It was hard rock, full stop.
The arrangements, by composer and MIT professor Evan Ziporyn — like Beiser, a founding member of the new-music ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars — are constantly inventive, utilizing looped and live cello parts to weave a sonic fabric that’s dense but not heavy. But these are not radically reimagined settings of the material. Beiser sounds like she’s reaching deep into these songs to find personal expression within their boundaries, as would a player of classical repertory.
It’s in that world that Beiser was trained, though even as a child playing classical programs in her native Israel, she’d compromise with the strictures of the form by going barefoot on stage.
Her eclecticism is borne out in her body of work, spanning multimedia performance pieces, a cello opera, and compositions written for her by Steve Reich and Philip Glass. She will fold the “Uncovered” material into a two-part performance, including Jewish liturgical music and films of Bill Morrison, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave festival in October.
Whether plucking out Kurt Cobain’s rhythmic intro from “Lithium” or emphatically bowing an extended solo in Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” that was all drama, Beiser proved to be a fully expressive performer. She rocked convincingly one minute and teased out lyricisms another.
Bischoff was only occasionally called upon to play a song’s original bass line, otherwise adding various textures on his rich-sounding Hofner bass copy. Kilmer sounded very much the rock drummer, and wove an engrossing percussion pattern on cajon for “Moanin’ at Midnight.” Sound designer Dave Cook also received equal billing in the program notes.
King Crimson’s “Epitaph” may have been the biggest revelation. The song lost its maudlin patina and shone as an elegiac meditation. It fit well within Beiser’s vision of a stylistically inclusive music that has no room for hyphens.
Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.