The Comet is Coming are back with another spoonful of cosmic jam, this time entitled Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (out now on Impulse!) and they aren’t hiding their influences. Be in no doubt: Space is the place. Bandleader and saxophonist, Shabaka (King Shabaka) Hutchings, is a sometime member of the inter-dimensional, pharaonic Jazz cult that is Sun Ra Arkestra, and makes no bones about the fact that he sees himself as a carrier of the flame for the great man. He’s also the leader of Sons of Kemet, who gave us last year’s exquisitely titled and inarguably brilliant LP Your Queen is a Reptile. He’s joined by Dan ‘Danalogue’ Leavers and Max ‘Betamax’ Hallett from electronica duo Soccer96, on keyboards and drums respectively. They’ve been playing together as The Comet is Coming for several years, and their first album, Channel the Spirits, was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2016.
Considering he’s regarded as spearheading something of a Jazz resurgence, Hutchings has been known to be a bit dismissive of the label. There’s little of the wild improvisation you might expect. Instead, he favours something more propulsive, as on ‘Summon the Fire’, with its light-speed cascade of variations on a motif that could easily be drawn from Altern8 or 2Unlimited. If Ray Slijngaard had stuck his head around the studio door, punching his fist in the air, and snarling, ‘TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO!’, there’s a reviewer not a million miles away from where I’m sitting who would have been rather delighted. And he’s delighted enough as it is. It’s quite ravey.
It’s actually a pity they couldn’t have got the rapper from 2Unlimited. Instead we make do with Kate Tempest, on ‘Blood of the Past’. She’s an amazingly effective live presence, a conduit for some kind of unearthly charisma. Sadly, much of her poetry is quite bad. A sequence of passive-aggressive non-sequiturs that add up to not much. Luckily her contribution is bookended by a pair of unmissable musical wig-outs, and let’s face it, Kate Tempest could read out the terms and conditions of an ISA and send shivers down your spine.
The album feels a bit front-loaded, with most of the drama confined to side one. The approach doesn’t quite work as well on the lower tempo tracks, like ‘Astral Flying’, which comprise much of the second half of the album. It’s good enough, and recalls Alain Gouraguer’s soundtrack for trippy French cartoon La Planète Sauvage, but feels occasionally too well-rooted in the seventies. When it does work, as on ‘Timewave Zero’, it’s when all the band come together, and the vision behind The Comet is Coming becomes clearest. There’s something really unclassifiable about it – Jazz abandoning itself to electronica and vice versa.
Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery is a fine record then, if not quite as far out as it could be. Those of us who remember Jazz-tronica from the first time around will recall Squarepusher’s Hard Normal Daddy, possibly with a grimace. The Comet is Coming tend more towards the acceptable face of proggy Jazz, and likely won’t be troubling audiences on Late Junction as a result. I damn with faint praise here to recommend them more than anything else, as this is a band that should rightly be finding an audience well beyond old bores like me. It definitely consolidates Shabaka Hutchings reputation as one of the most important musicians in the UK. He’s just a short hop away from giving Kamasi Washington something to worry about. More than that though, the world is so fucked up right now, we need a few utopian, sci-fi visionaries about the place. Any musician who can bring even a flicker of the immortal light of Sun Ra is most welcome.
Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery is out now on Impulse!