There’s an old saying that wherever you hang your hat that’s your home. The Hermes Experiment, a four-piece multi-award-winning combo, has hung its hat in the House of Cool – and it just loves living there! Its brand of eclecticism, already ‘out there’ on two albums, has won it many friends and admirers and, on the showing of this concert, its star will continue to rise and rise.

The Hermes Experiment
© Raphaël Neal

In the Baroque splendour of a church fondly-known as Queen Anne’s Footstool, the band – bassist Marianne Schofield, clarinettist Oliver Pashley, harpist Anne Denholm, and soprano Héloïse Werner – entertained a small but appreciative audience to nine of the finest things they currently have on offer. It was a selection of the commissioned (over 60 so far), the arranged (all its own work), and a self-penned original; a taster-menu of the gritty, the edgy and the whimsical. From the sinister-sounding opening bars of Barbara Strozzi’s Tradimento! – a found-object of 1659 – to the evaporating mantra of Oliver Leith’s Uh Huh, Yeah (without an exclamation-mark), the band effused an alchemy that defines a finely-crafted, sensuous sound world rich in potential. It may be likened to the product of a skilled whiskey-blender, an already fine preserve that, with age, will deepen into a top-class brand.

Errollyn Wallen’s gun gun gun is of the gritty variety, a setting of Terese Svodoba’s poem about a mass-shooting at a nightclub in Orlando in 2016. Rarely have I heard a harp sound so angry, its wires strangling the air and cutting through the soprano’s anguish. The gestures of Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s Draw the Line is as far away from Wallen’s as one can imagine; a whimsical weave of soulful instrumental lines that takes you up into its comforting arms. She has been hailed as the very definition of eclectic soul. Another piece to which “whimsical” may easily be attached is Tom Coult’s I Find Planets. It is a delicate and refined setting of texts generated by a Twitterbot created by Charles Bergquist, which, every hour, announces the discovery of an imaginary planet: how cool is that! Coult thinks that if/when life on our own dear Mother Earth hits the buffers we may need to relocate to one of the said planets; I predict that we will need a new world constructed of something rather more robust than a fancy piece of software.

Three of the arrangements are of the edgy strain: Anna Meredith’s Fin like a flower; Emily Hall’s Befalling; and an extract from Caroline Shaw’s Plan and Elevation. Meredith’s piece sets Philip Ridley. A lover is enticed “beyond land’s end” by petal and perfume; the music leaves him/her/they hanging in the air. Hall has words of unrequited first love, by Toby Litt, with music heavily inflected with soft-folkish colours. The Eclipse movement of Shaw’s work disorients the ears with a haunting, repetitious bassline.

In Bass Piece the band was both composer and performer. The instrument was embraced, tickled, rubbed, scraped and plucked – by all four of them! More a “Happening” than a performance, it seemed to say yeah, we can do that stuff as well. Further evidence of contemporary credentials appeared in Coult’s piece: honey drippers placed between the lower strings of the harp, and its upper strings detuned in full flight; the harpist and the bass player doubled on pitch-pipes. If that’s not enough to confirm the award of the Cool accolade, let Oliver Leith have the final words: Uh Huh, Yeah.

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