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The Comet Is Coming
Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam Brian Coney , September 23rd, 2022 08:26

Shabaka Hutchings, Betamax and Danalogue return, ready to blow your mind all over again, finds Brian Coney

“Go as hard as possible within being musical.” These eight words by Shabaka Hutchings, spoken to the Quietus back in 2016, double up as one of the most expedient mantras in modern music. The British-Barbadian saxophonist and clarinettist, otherwise known as King Shabaka in the guise of London trio The Comet Is Coming, was relating a conversation with free jazz giant Evan Parker. “If you go to the absolute end of what you think you can do, there’s always something else you can tap into,” Shabaka added.

It might feel like a small eternity since their Prophecy EP but, six years on, The Comet Is Coming – Shabaka, keyboardist Danalogue (Dan Leavers), and drummer Betamax (Max Hallett) – continue to honour those eight words by somehow pushing further beyond speculative limits. Having last heard from the trio on 2019’s Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery, a tripped-out feat that upped the avant-jazz ante tenfold; Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam is an exhibition in levelled-up intent. Recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio across four days, it’s the sound of three musicians who refuse to second-guess themselves. They’ve always valued it but here “going as hard as possible” hits like a destination in itself.

Like Shabaka’s other main projects, Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors, physicality has long been elemental to The Comet Is Coming. This commitment to inducing a full-body response, not merely the tap of a foot at a bus stop, has a lambent ferocity that Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam doubles down on. Boasting more helical grooves than the Screwfix HQ in Yeovil, ‘Technicolour’ is not so much seasick as spacesick, a swaggering astral weave, subverting acid jazz with a chromatic pay-off. Entering clubby territory, ‘CODE’ is a pure-cut peak exploring “hidden meaning and codes in humans (DNA) and technology.” The backstory sounds perfectly believable but – as on the likes of ‘Pyramids’ – it’s also an internal-monologue-crushing volley that would feel at home at Tresor every bit as much as Cafe OTO.

It’s right up there with one of the elusive things to place as a listener but the music of The Comet Is Coming – much like contemporaries including Szun Waves – has often felt legitimately prophetic. Here, it feels pared down to the moment rather than foretelling unknowable future days. Where the all-too-brief noir fusion of ‘Tokyo Nights’ wields scattergun rhythms, ‘Frequency of Feeling Expansion’ is a swarming simoon of tones. Above dubbed-out bass and power rhythms by Betamax calling to mind Norwegian jazz-rock band Ultralyd, King Shabaka guides the procession with soul-jazz supremacy à la The Epic-era Kamasi Washington. Then there’s ‘Angel of Darkness’, a billowing structure of sound and one of the threesome’s finest achievements to date. Conjuring the pleasing doom of Flemish painter Hans Bol’s ‘Tower of Babel’, the heavy mesh of sound is hulking yet majestic. Cresting on lethal altissimo (the uppermost register on woodwind instruments that can sound like shrieking), King Shabaka doubly warrants his title.

As the trio has demonstrated myriad times in the past, the impact is often in the offset. Take the measured ‘Lucid Dreamer’, where panned synth trills zip past locked rhythms like bioluminescent deep sea fish. Or 'Aftermath’, where bass-synth bombast, shakuhachi and muggy ambience evoke Assault in Precinct 13 reimagined in a tropical ravine. ‘Atomic Wave Dance’, meanwhile, clearly reveals the self-sampling by Danalogue and Betamax that helps to define the release. Much like closer ‘Mystik’, you would almost need custom-moulded earplugs to cushion the piercing wall of silence that meets its end.

Blessedly, it’s here where one’s mind wanders to how Danalogue described the trio coming together as one as “the algorithm of fate.” It’s a pitch-perfect appraisal that speaks to the incredible things that can happen when control cedes to conviction. And it’s all happening now. If there’s a more emphatic album released this side of 2023, we’ll be very lucky indeed.