Qwest-TV-The Comet Is Coming, Shabaka Hutchings Declares

The album title Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery is about more than conjuring an image. Instead, it feels like a definite instruction to the listener. Once on board, we flash forward while the cabin walls shake, the light of the past suspended in streaks through the windows, too slow to catch up. Thus the mission log reads: status, launched; destination, unknown.

When Shabaka Hutchings signed to Impulse! in 2018, he came as a package deal along with his respective groups. This all but crowned him as the flag-bearer for a brave new London sound, one that sought to buck trends, shift gears and to lay the foundations for free-wheeling, multi-cultural expression on top of absorbed traditions.

Such is the lavish praise that has been heaped on the London scene in the last year or two, it has led to musings of a post-American jazz revival, where young artists aren’t driven to “satisfy the standards that were set by jazz in the past.” While there is truth here, Shabaka has always insisted on the value of history: “for it to remain dynamic, it needs to be learnt.”

This principle is clear to see in the restless, high-octane summonings of Shabaka And The Ancestors and in Sons of Kemet’s search for historical identity within the Caribbean diaspora. But while The Comet Is Coming are oriented towards futurism, theirs is a quest that has one foot locked in the past as well.

An empowered new space

Futurism, and particularly Afro-futurism, seeks to alleviate distress in the present through imagining an alternative future reality. Its tool, its weapon, is universal creativity.

Tricia Rose, the director of studies for race and ethnicity at Brown University notes the history of this movement, which took root in literature and music, stemming from experiences of slavery and subjugation. The fantasy of escaping earth and of seeing oneself somewhere else – at once connected to origins and to an empowered new space – can be keenly felt on this new album.

Shabaka cites Sun Ra’s thinking on the power of myths, arguing that a community’s inability to “assign their own mythological structures … to imagine other realities … is one of the first signs of subjugation.” In ensuring his own agency, he looks for a mythological mothership connection, inviting listeners on a voyage where everyone is equal and barriers are lifted.

Deeper universal truth

But rather than a single mission, the album’s course feels more like an odyssey, one that borrows from Stanley Kubrick by beginning at the dawn of memory. A distant relative throws a bone into the air … it spins and rises until reforming itself as a space shuttle, made of the same carbon but vastly reimagined.

If this sounds like a far-reaching metaphor, then it echoes the scale of the group’s celestial ambitions. Together, they steer the vessel, propelled simply by an “honest unfolding of imagination.” Formerly members of the duo Soccer96, drummer Betamix (Max Hallett) and synth man Danalogue (Dan Leavers) speak of the advent of AI, global warming and of computer-brain fusion as being encroaching catastrophes, like comets.

Their response is to connect to a deeper universal truth through free musical expression. Alongside King Shabaka, they reprogram the cosmic wanderings of icons associated with Impulse!, sharing the same attitude as John and Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra and, more broadly, with Mahavishnu Orchestra, Can and the L.A. beat scene. In this company, they become part of the same voyage through the “vastness of space.”

On “Summon The Fire,” Danalogue’s seemingly endless range of texture and tone mingles with the streams of light spewed by Shabaka’s tenor. Together, they spark blistering, exhilarating pathways while Betamix’s tumultuous groove sends them tumbling forward. We enter what feels like an ecstatic space portal, a colorful vortex where extended synth blasts light the way.

Bone against steel

But elsewhere, the direction is less clear. One minute we can be hurtling through space and the next we are crash landing on Earth, forced to skim along its surface – the steady drums pulling synth and sax down as they strain to regain flight. This is the case on “Blood Of The Past,” where the crackled, distorted signal of a human voice is picked up and transmitted.

That voice belongs to Kate Tempest, one of the UK’s foremost spoken word artists, having shared the stage with the likes of Cooper Clarke and Benjamin Zephaniah. Her style is raw and her words are expelled with rasp and pain. A refreshing addition to the album, she explores the same dissonance between hyper-modernization and fundamental human qualities: “the clatter of bone against steel.” In true dystopian fashion, she declares: “there is nothing but progress to eat.”

Her words have clear meaning, and they speak of the past and present as being fused in a cyclical, inescapable pattern: “the reflection of sunlight on glass bouncing back onto sunlight on glass bouncing back.” Our essential goodness is the only thing powerful enough to escape this predicament and to heal a “scar on the soul of the Earth.” Projecting forward, she imagines a future society that has a more soulful connection to land and to lovers.

But most of the meaning here exists beyond semantics. Indeed, Shabaka draws no fixed link between linguistic and music phrasing at all. Instead, The Comet Is Coming’s new album aims to summon a feeling that is more concrete than words, with no definite scale. It could act as the epic soundtrack to an eye-lid opening just as well as it could accompany the Earth turning on its axis. On Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery, the group depart with what is already theirs: origin, identity, instinct … and launch into the unknown, looking for an ultimate connection.

The Comet Is ComingTrust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery (Impulse!)

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Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée | With the support of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union With the support of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union