Ahead of their headline slot at Jupiter Rising, The Comet is Coming's synth player tells us about their new celestial record and why contemporary jazz is miles ahead
With a sound rooted firmly in the cosmic afro-futurism of Sun Ra, Fela Kuti and George Clinton, London trio The Comet is Coming represent a new wave of British jazz that is equal parts innovative and exciting. Comprised of Sons of Kemet bandleader and saxophonist King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings), keyboard / synth player Danalogue (Dan Leavers) and drummer Betamax (Max Hallett), the group offer a nod to the past, while incorporating elements of grime, hip hop and dubstep into their euphoric and energised take on spiritual jazz.
'In 2019, we're seeing complexification and bifurcation everywhere,' explains Danalogue. 'I think this is being reflected by artists who no longer care about the genre boundaries and boxes so revered by the industry establishment and critics alike. What we're trying to do is to make new music, new sounds, new forms of expression, new ideas, and make music that comes from the here and now and projects a vision into the future. We don't seek inspiration from anywhere other than deep inside our souls, and often we're just channelling the music from someplace else.'
Following on from the 2016 Mercury-nominated Channel the Spirits, which, in itself, was a bold and hugely creative debut, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery is their spellbinding new record which takes The Comet is Coming's cinematic instrumentation and atmospheric grooves to new heights. 'All the answers are found encoded in the music,' Danalogue states when asked about the primary themes and ideas behind the album. 'We have a firm belief that you cannot take a journey to another dimension without bringing back a message or proof of where you've been, otherwise you could have just been hiding in a bush somewhere. So, this is a souvenir from deep astral travelling, and most people find, especially live, that they can receive some sort of contact experience and access some of the cosmic download.'
Being shortlisted for the Mercury Prize is no mean feat, but as Danalogue notes, the trio were careful not to let the success of their debut cast a negative shadow on the process or conception of its follow-up. 'One thing that we were consciously aware of was the potential for second album syndrome, expectations from yourself and imagined others, and this quest for seeking a bigger and better sound. Through being consciously aware of this, I think we were able to relax and trust that together we were going to record some exciting music, and that our honest expression would shine through if we didn't get in the way of it.'
Consistently held up as an example of where the contemporary jazz scene is headed, The Comet is Coming have been embraced by a varying contingent of music fans. For Danalogue, it's the cross-pollination of styles that a new generation of jazz musicians are largely responsible for, plus the sense of freedom and experimentation in the genre that continues to attract new followers.
'The explosion of jazz has come from many different angles,' he says. 'Not least, the Labour government in the UK in the previous decade that allowed for investment in music lessons at school, which the Tories are currently dismantling, and then community jazz groups like Tomorrow's Warriors in London that nurtured and encouraged young talent. And then the beautiful immediacy of watching a musician right in front of you give everything through an instrument that they've spent years learning the technical ability to play, and the unity of the crowd of experiencing that one-off performance fuelled by improvisation taps into our craving of "experience" rather than commodity.'
Danalogue is also of the belief that the stuffy canonisation of jazz is being broken down by newer, younger listeners. 'Where there were rigid boundaries in the past regarding how you approach jazz, now the younger generation are feeling free with their instruments to express how they feel right now. Gilles Peterson said to me recently, "this is such a great time for music!" And he's right.'
Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery has been lauded across the board, with critics hailing the 45-minute record as a dynamic intergalactic adventure while fans love every second of the band's explosive live shows. 'The crowds have been magnificent and we offer all our gratitude and love to those who come out to experience our shows. We've always had a varied audience for The Comet is Coming: young kids raving at the front, some older long beards and hair, original psychedelic heads from the first time round, record collectors, middle-aged jazz aficionados who follow everything Shabaka plays on, and all sorts of people who have accessed our music through BBC6 Music too.'
The band have a busy summer ahead of them, with dates in the US, Japan and beyond, not to mention a headline slot at Edinburgh's Jupiter Rising in August. 'We are thrilled; we've heard this festival is a great one,' Danalogue says. 'Our top pick for the festival has to be Jenny Moore's Mystic Business!'
With plenty of touring on the horizon and some new music potentially arriving before the end of the year, the future continues to look truly celestial for the trio. As Danalogue summarises in quintessential The Comet is Coming fashion: 'the future is willing us on. The eternal present is where we shall harness our awareness. It is only in the now that everything exists.'
Jupiter Rising, Jupiter Artland, Wilkieston, Fri 23–Sun 25 Aug.
Following on from the Jupiter Campout, Scotland’s most distinctive outdoor festival returns with an even bigger event and line-up of artists and music-makers. Taking place in the iconic Jupiter Artland sculpture park, Jupiter Rising breathes new life into the festival format with a powerful overview of cutting-edge…