At the intersection of jazz and rave music, lie The Comet Is Coming. A trio of sax, synth and drums, rooted in free-form improvisation, their live show is one part musical exploration, one part pure fury. It’s a crossover that some may find unholy, but one that’s gaining ground in London – defying notions of genre in the process – as a new generation of musicians resolve the sounds of jazz with a youth whose primary point of contact is the club scene.
While they no doubt struggle with the label, perhaps even resent it, the pace and ingenuity of The Comet Is Coming’s playing means that its basis can only be in jazz. The band and its members come from the circle of London-based innovators which includes Nubya Garcia, Ezra Collective and Moses Boyd, centred around the city’s conservatoires. Like these acts, education is where the comparisons to traditional jazz end. To get an approximation of The Comet Is Coming’s sound, take technical musicianship of the highest calibre and give it the energy and atmosphere of the dirtiest, heaviest, sweatiest club you can imagine. Forget candle-lit tables in sophisticated bars, and think the heaving mass of Fabric at 4am.
On display at the Haunt was the band’s fluid incorporation of the structures of trance, house and techno, into live improvisation. Song progressions bore more resemblance to the peaks and troughs of a DJ set than a band performance, with the venue descending into tribal onslaughts and breathless breakdowns. Synth player Danalogue the Conqueror seemed to lead the way here, building cacophonies of delay with sounds ranging from cosmic to 8-bit. Sax player Shabaka Hutchings, recent winner of Jazz FM’s UK Jazz act of the year, offered natural relief from Danalogue’s futurism: often the synths would ascend into the stratosphere, only for Shabaka to step in at the climax and anchor the song back to earth with his more grounded, afro-jazz and funk influences. These highs and lows were made possible by the ferocious drumming of Betamax Killer, who almost certainly walked away with blistered fingers.
While the energy levels coming out of the instruments were fantastically high, the players themselves gave a surprisingly static and bare-bones performance, moving around the stage very little. The music spoke for itself, however the Haunt is a big stage to own between just three musicians and more engagement may have been repaid by the audience, who danced hard but never quite fully surrendered to the rhythms.
One reason for this may be that The Comet Is Coming’s sound was, clearly, born and refined in the arena of the nightclub, the late night jam session, and the festival stage. That atmosphere is hard to capture on a Tuesday evening. However, this didn’t stop them from dropping jaws among a crowd who had never heard anything like it. Most left with a dazed look in their eyes, as they struggled to come to terms with a band who are doing something so completely different. Put simply, The Comet Is Coming are a must-see.