Living Room in London, Exeter Phoenix, Friday 20th January
By Pete Canter
Originally conceived as a duo of hang player Manu Delagu and bass clarinettist Christoph Pepe Auer, Living Room in London has expanded to a five-strong chamber group with the addition of violinists Ella Fagg and Tom Norris and cellist Gregor Riddell.
This was the second date of a European tour to promote their new album Living Room in London.
Working in the crossover area where contemporary classical music meets folk and jazz, all five members of the group displayed impeccable technique and musicianship.
The large audience was captivated by two sets of original pieces composed either by members of the group or commissioned for them along with a couple of arrangements of well known tunes, namely jazz standard So What written by Miles Davis and Mozart’s Rondo A La Turk.
At the heart of the group is Delagu playing hang drums, three large metallic, mushroom-shaped sound sculptures tuned on a similar principal to that of steel drums and played with the bare hands. The sound is delicate and beguiling and provides both a rhythmic and harmonic underpinning to the group sound.
Added to this was the ghostly sound of Auer’s bass clarinet providing sinuous melodies, rhythmic ostinati and slap-tongued bass lines.
The string players were also called upon to contribute to the pulse with pizzicato grooves and repeating minimalist figures, as well as with beautiful melodic playing.
The combination of strings and bass clarinet always contains the potential to evoke folk traditions and the music of the Middle East. These compositions were no exception and successfully blended the contemporary and esoteric with the sounds of the souk.
The communication within the group was extraordinary and the precision of playing superb. The freshness of the compositions and the wide palate of sound textures made for an enthralling evening of music.
For me the strongest sections were the contemporary classical pieces composed by group members, for example Delago’s Constructing referring to how the group was formed, and Auer’s Indian Sandpaper based on the story of how he was stranded in Northern India with his bass clarinet after a festival was cancelled at short notice.
The highly arranged So What was punchy and full of surprises and Auer’s alto saxophone playing revealed the influence of his other life as a jazz player. The group encored with the Mozart and this went down extremely well with the audience.
Catch them if you can.