A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (King Shabaka), synths maven Dan Leavers (Danalogue) and drummer Maxwell Hallett (Betamax) were students at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama. As alumni, they formed The Comet Is Coming. To jumble allusions with as much abandon as the band approach cosmic jazz-rock, their continuing mission has been to seek out new soundworlds and to boldly go where no musicians have gone before.
After debuting with the EP Prophecy on Leaf in 2015, the group signed to Impulse!, also home to Hutchings' Sons of Kemet (R.I.P.) and Shabaka & the Ancestors . Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam is The Comet Is Coming's fourth studio album and, like its predecessors, it will divide the jazz community as deeply as did Herbie Hancock's paradigm shifter Future Shock (Columbia, 1983) and its single "Rockit," which together brokered the marriage of jazz and hip hop.
Seasoned jazztronauts may experience a flash of recognition on clocking Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam's cover, for it bears more than a passing resemblance to the artwork on Sun Ra's The Heliocentric Worlds Of Sun Ra, Volume Two (ESP-Disk, 1966). OK, the cover is not a dead ringer of Ra's, but, deliberately or accidentally (and five gets you ten it is the former), it is in the same galaxy. The salute is appropriate: it was Ra's Afrofuturist orientation which birthed first-generation cosmic jazz, and his pioneering use of synths and fondness for berserker saxophones which prepared the way for The Comet Is Coming's strand of it. Whether the London trio literally subscribe to the End Is Nigh-ism they propound, and indeed whether Ra literally believed his Saturnian shtick, or whether both should be considered metaphorical devices, is unimportant. What is important is that in Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam, just as in The Heliocentric Worlds Of Sun Ra, we are entertained by musical imaginations running gloriously amok.
Off-the-wall though it is, The Comet Is Coming's odyssey has a few parallels and precedents in addition to those of Sun Ra. It is conceivable, for instance, that the great Albert Ayler and his collaborator Mary Parks might have travelled in a similar direction, within the constraints of available science and tech, had Ayler's life not been cut so tragically short. Amongst twenty-first century musicians, the one who has so far come closest to matching The Comet Is Coming's trajectory is the Seattle-based cyberpunk saxophonist Skerik. But it is The Comet Is Coming who have, so far anyway, put the most parsecs between themselves and demotic jazz.
Some observers will deny that Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam is jazz, especially on hearing the opener, "Code" (check the YouTube below). Others will not care how the music is categorised. It combines a jazz sensibility with a rock one, it triggers cerebral and visceral responses, and it will peel the socks clean off unshod feet.
Code; Technicolour; Lucid Dreamer; Tokyo Nights; Pyramids; Frequency Of Feeling Expansion; Angel Of Darkness; Aftermath; Atomic Wave Dance; The Hammer; Mystik.
Shabaka Hutchings: tenor saxophone, shakuhachi;
Danalogue: Roland SH-99, Roland Juno-60, Ensoniq ESQ1, Yamaha DX7, Roland VP-330, Pro-Rhythm, Moog Sub Phatty, Roland SH-101, Jen Piano-73, Roland Jupiter-4, percussion, field recordings;
Betamax drums, percussion, Simmons Clap Trap, Roland Jupiter-4, JHS Pro-Rhythm, Roland TR-808.
Since 1995, shortly after the dawn of the internet, All About Jazz has been a champion of jazz, supporting it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to rigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.