The Front Room, the substantial free performance area of the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall at London's Southbank Centre, filled up rapidly last night in anticipation of Renu's performance. Renu At The Front Room, after her album release Love From London earlier this year, had generated a lot of buzz and eager anticipatation. To hell with the miserably cold, windy December day, I wouldn't have missed this for anything. Obviously, a lot of people were of like opinion! By the time Renu's set started, even standing room was pretty sparse.
Renu's music is one of those delightful types of music that stubbornly refuses to be pigeonholed in any way. Is it rock, prog-rock, experimental, classical cross-over, pop, jazz? It is none and all of these at the same time, or at least, there are elements of all of these to be found in this genre-busting music.
The material consisted of pieces from Love From London as well as newer ones. The line-up that multi-instrumentalist percussionist and composer Renu presented was an equally outstanding and indeed fascinating one. Three remarkable, nay extraordinary vocalists, including an operatic soprano voice, could have kept one absolutely riveted with just Renu all evening. They were Kay Elizabeth, Katie Tomczynska, and Chloe Beecham. Astounding each one of them in their own way. They were backed by the excellent bass and guitar of Pablo and Joanna Maeva, respectively, and the violas of Amy Jane Hoskens and Michael Pagalatus, the latter of whom also occasionally doubled on esraj (an Indian long-necked bowed lute).
Renu herself is a high calibre multi-percussionist whose slight, delicate appearance is contradicted by her tremendous energy and strength as a player. Her inventive, imaginative drumming, including very occasionally on tabla, and use of various other percussion instruments, could easily keep one fascinated by itself. For hours. Not to be forgotten also has to be her sensitive use of the theremin in one piece - simply amazing.
This amazing line-up was supplemented by special guests Spanish poet Antonio Alfaro Sanchez, Spanish vocalist Davinia Bano, and Paloma Palomino on charango, who proved equally fascinating.
Renu and her band's performance at The Front Room last night proved not only utterly riveting but also an utter delight and immensely enjoyable and uplifting. So much so, it was easy to forget and forgive that this was one continuous close on one and a half hour marathon set!
The music was inspired, rather than laboured, and had plenty to tell, in a somehow cinematic way. It was subtly informed by a great variety of influences that seemed to hint at the 1960s and 70s (further enhanced by the aforementioned use of the theremin in one piece), yet was very much of the present and future. Renu's compositions were rock solid and displayed a remarkable musical sensitivity as well as maturity, and great musical depth.
Rather than a simple kind of fusion, Renu's music is truly wonderful genre-busting. (It is interesting to note that much of true genre-busting music seems to originate with drummers!)
While there was the (very) occasional use of tabla and esraj, there was no hint of any Indian influences in Renu's music, this is clearly not some kind of 'East-West Fusion' or anything like that. Not even close.
Renu At The Front Room was an hour and a half of mainly high-energy and always immensely enjoyable, fabulous music of the highest calibre - call the music what you will. If you must call it something.
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