The cover. The album title. The song titles. The anachronistic faux-controversy of their “musical cosmonauts” moniker. The members’ aliases (‘Danalogue the Conqueror’ for example). The Spotify bio that uses the word ‘transcendent’, evidently without irony.
I find myself in trouble before I even begin. I can’t decide if they are frustratingly pretentious or delightfully bonkers. Are they the Khrushchev of jazz wankers fooling us into joining their space race with Soviet propaganda or are they genuinely making listenable, danceable, radio-sensible, instrumental bangers? The only other artist I’ve ever forgiven for using the word ‘transcendent’ is Stevie Wonder. Can The Comet is Coming elicit PBs’ clemency at Glastonbury Sunday afternoon levels?
I hate sci-fi. The imaginary bores me. The concept of jazz synth makes me want to vomit. How, firmly rooted here on earth, am I going to get through this?
Yet when I start listening, I can’t get enough of it. Like you (yes, you, he says, confidently hitting the PBs audience demographic nail squarely on the head) I’ve heard the album’s ferocious lead single ‘Summon the Fire’ with its relentless, mechanical, yet irresistible ner-ner ner-ner motif, all over 6music in the last few weeks and it has become a persistent earworm. On top of this, Comet have got serious album form – their last was Mercury nominated – and they have enough clout to draw a Kate Tempest guest vocal on ‘Blood of the Past’. There’s something curious going on here.
I’m drawn to small bands (Death from Above, White Stripes) whose noise producing capability far exceeds the sum of their individual parts, and the combination of the three members of Comet is no exception. This is clear from opener ‘Because the End is Really the Beginning’, reminiscent of incidental music from the film Flash Gordon, and peaks with the second half of ‘Timewave Zero’. This launches the prospect of their live performance into the stratosphere (bollocks, I used a space metaphor).
Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (real name) is literally instrumental to this. On ‘Super Zodiac’ and the aforementioned ‘Summon the Fire’ he bangs out notes on the saxophone like no one else. In his hands it’s transformed into intergalactic percussion (fuck, I did it again), all rhythm and minimal range of notes. Seriously, I’ve never heard anyone play like this. When does he breathe? He must be knackered at the end of each tune. This could explain the presence of the lower energy ‘Birth of Creation’s’ sinister opening notes and ‘Astral Flying’, just to give the guy a rest. He divides his time between Comet, Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors. I’m not familiar with these other acts but their serious sounding names point to a freedom with Comet not found elsewhere, and perhaps his unique sax sound on this album is the result.
Although not sonically akin to the ‘cool jazz’ of the early 1960s (they’re more likely influenced by Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock), Comet have had the same realisation as Miles Davis and co: that successfully eschewing the perceived values of virtuosity-over-popularity that likely puts many music fans off anything labelled ‘jazz’, is actually a good thing. Again I mean you, 6music listeners – the mass shutdown of radios on Saturdays immediately after Liz Kershaw is palpable.Comet have managed to cross the boundary into the mainstream alongside the likes of Kamasi Washington and Kamaal Williams; a movement where we even see artists going the other way (see Tom Misch and Loyle Carner below) as Flying Lotus straddle the void between like a bridge to another dimension (ok, stop now).
Propaganda or otherwise, it’s worked on me. I urge you to look beyond the cosmic bullshit and just listen. And dance. And check out Gilles on 6. Just try not to use the word ‘transcendent’, [space]man.
Words by James Spearing.