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The Lead Review

More Fire! The Comet Is Coming's Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery
Mike Vinti , March 28th, 2019 10:21

Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane become accelerating vectors , fast-forwarding jazz to new worlds on the new Comet is Coming album. But Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery could appeal just as well to clubbers, grime fans and football hooligans, finds Mike Vinti

Photo credit: Fabrice Bourgelle

Shabaka Hutchings is the reigning king of British jazz. The bandleader of the Mercury-nominated Sons of Kemet, the curator of the scene’s defining compilation We Out Here, and an icon for much of the new generation, he’s been a driving force behind the UK jazz explosion the media has been banging on about for the last year. Yet listen to his latest project – as one of third of the cosmic-minded The Comet is Coming – and you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was hardly jazz at all.

Much has been made of how the new wave of British jazz incorporates elements of grime, dubstep and British bass music in all its forms. Yet to date, there’s never been a clearer example of that tendency than Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery. Across nine tracks and forty-five minutes, Hutchings – or King Shabaka as the album’s liner notes refer to him – alongside Keyboard player Danalogue (Dan Leavers) and drummer Betamax (Max Hallett) take us on a tour of their boundaryless world, where Sun Ra, Slimzee, and 808 State sit side by side as key influences.

Take lead single ‘Summon the Fire’ for example, a rowdy 160bpm cut that blends pounding drumlines with appropriately spacey synths. Hutchings’ saxophone carries the melody, squawking through various effects until it reaches a triumphant hook that wouldn’t sound amiss on a Prodigy record. So boisterous is the track’s bridge that at times it threatens to morph into the kind of happy hardcore revivalism that’s dominating the UK’s clubs. If this is jazz, it’s jazz for football hooligans, and it is utterly glorious.

That theme continues on ‘Super Zodiac’ which after a relatively sedate introduction launches into a euphoric burst of shimmering keys and propulsive drums. Blasts of Hutchings saxophone compete for space in the mix, building to an overwhelming peak that makes you wonder how on earth only three people can make this much noise.

Like the dance music pioneers whose influence runs through the album, The Comet Is Coming know that the secret of success is all about tension and relief. While Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery is at its best when battering the listener with the combined histories of cosmic jazz and British rave, its quieter moments are just as key to the album’s strength. Opening track ‘Because The End is Really The Beginning’ is a masterclass in mood-setting. Totally overdramatic with lumbering cinematic horns and ominous drum fills, it sounds like being dropped into the futuristic wasteland in which this album makes it home. It makes a fitting tribute to the influence that the group themselves admit Blade Runner has had on them.

Both dance music and cosmic jazz have a propensity for lengthy tracks, prioritising space for the listener to get lost in over radio-play. But most of the songs on Trust… are kept short, often wrapping things up around the five-minute mark. The exception is the Kate Tempest-featuring ‘Blood of The Past’, an eight-minute epic at the core of the record. The only track to feature vocals, ‘Blood of The Past’ takes the Prodigy influence of ‘Summon the Fire’ and warps it into an industrial, head-banging anthem with Tempest informing the listener “it is too late for dreaming” and warning us of the error of our ways.

If the group’s dystopian tendencies get the better of them on ‘Blood of The Past’, all is forgotten by the time they reach ‘Astral Flying’, ‘Timewave Zero’, and ‘Unity’, a trio of songs that bring The Comet Is Coming back to greener, jazzier pastures. Afrobeat drums carry ‘Timewave Zero’, saxophone and keys gliding harmoniously over the top with just a hint of melancholy underpinning the whole thing, while ‘Unity’ recalls the gentle approach of London jazz peers KOKOROKO, with sublime horns and hints of the city’s hustle running through the track.

The Comet Is Coming have been pushing jazz beyond its limits since their inception. However, on Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery, the group seem to have finally broken through the atmosphere and are now soaring in uncharted territory. There’s no denying the importance of Alice Coltrane or Sun Ra as influences on the album but rather than being weighed down by those legacies, The Comet Is Coming have turned them into fuel, accelerating their sound, and with it, the sound of jazz today. Hutchings’ playing on this record is as distinctive as anything John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins put to wax and Leavers’, and Hallett’s instrumentation is unmistakably contemporary. It’s not hard to imagine fans of instrumental grime or darker jungle finding and loving this record with no knowledge of jazz at all. Yet as much as it’s bound to piss off bebop purists and avant-garde experimentalists alike, few can deny that Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery is a jazz record. To paraphrase a notable space explorer, this is jazz, Jim, but not as we know it.

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