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The Comet is Coming - Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery Music Album Reviews

The cosmically minded group featuring rising jazz saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings dances to the apocalypse and pleads for humanity.

For the past two years, London saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings has traveled the globe as one of jazz music’s top performers, lending his hallmark bluster to like-minded artists Makaya McCraven and Moses Sumney, while crafting the sonic direction for two of his three disparate bands: the Caribbean dance-themed Sons of Kemet, the spiritual jazz-focused Shabaka and the Ancestors, and the cosmic jazz-centered the Comet Is Coming. Through a tireless work ethic, Hutchings has become one of the trendiest musicians in all of jazz, and is the leader of a U.K. jazz scene that boasts such names as Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd, and Theon Cross.

Yet if there’s a flashpoint of Hutchings’ ascendance, it’s 2016, when his other band, the Comet Is Coming, was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize Album of the Year and Shabaka and the Ancestors released an exquisite album called Wisdom of Elders on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings label. From there, his name and likeness started appearing everywhere: Hop on his Instagram and Facebook pages, and you’re likely to see Hutchings blaring his sax on stage through grainy video footage, or posing alongside the likes of Kamasi Washington, who’s become a fan of his work. Though Hutchings has been a driving force in the British underground since the early 2010s—having played with a variety of bands, including the punk-focused Melt Yourself Down, and the kaleidoscopic jazz group Polar Bear—it seems the rest of the world is coming around to his magnetic creative artistry.

Of Hutchings’ groups, the Comet Is Coming reaches farthest, and their new album Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery feels directly influenced by the cosmic electronica of Flying Lotus’ Los Angeles and any of Sun Ra’s eccentric jazz. Co-written by Hutchings on sax, Max Hallett on drums, and Dan Leavers on keys, the Comet creates sci-fi-themed blends of jazz painted in dark shades of crimson. Equally nostalgic and progressive, the band mixes the upbeat bounce of 1990s house music with dismal funk and psych-rock, landing on a sound that feels tethered to disaster, like the soundtrack of a party that will soon dissolve. Across this album and the band’s previous work, there’s a sense of cataclysmic despair, that the world is ending and there’s nothing left to do but dance to the apocalypse. If 2017’s Death to the Planet scored Earth’s demise, Lifeforce details its restoration, just as the flames dwindle and the fumes rise from charred soil.

Lifeforce is an album in the truest sense, with each song blending into the next for continuous listening. Mostly low- to mid-tempo, the band skillfully integrates bleak and radiant tones, leading to an impressive nine-track suite of ambient, spoken-word and grime-infused compositions. Take the bookend tracks, “Because the End Is Really the Beginning” and “The Universe Wakes Up,” as examples: They’re both weightless, unfolding in a haze of foggy synth chords, faint drum fills and sullen saxophone wails, at once eliciting thoughts of impending doom and possible hope. Other songs feel especially festive: “Summon the Fire,” “Super Zodiac” and “Timewave Zero” have quick percussion and soaring synth work, and Hutchings accentuates them with turbulent blasts. The saxophonist’s technique centers on high-powered gusts that slowly unfurl until the track’s apex, where he heightens the energy even further with higher-pitched shrieking.

By the time “Unity” comes around, Hutchings takes the steam out of his horn, letting the notes flutter as Hallett and Leavers take center stage. On an album of gripping intensity, this song is the most optimistic, soft drums and oscillating synths conveying the deepest notions of peace. “Blood of the Past” is the album’s clear centerpiece and its heaviest track. Here, the trio produces a menacing instrumental on which poet Kate Tempest delivers a finger-wagging verse to, well, everything—vanity, capitalism, social disconnection, and nonchalance. She speaks the only words we hear on the album, crystallizing the Comet’s masterful release with blunt force impact. “Imagine a culture that has at its root a more soulful connection to land, and to lovers,” Tempest ponders. “...Unable to listen, we keep speaking … unable to notice ourselves, unable to stop and unwilling to learn.” The Comet’s point becomes clear in that moment: Earth’s demise isn’t due to some fiery blast you’d see in a movie, it’s due to the erosion of common decency, and our allegiance to superficial items that validate our existence. Lifeforce is a plea to stay human, and most of all, humane.

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