The Comet Is Coming landed a Mercury Prize nomination for their 2016 debut album Channel the Spirits, a cosmic collision of jazz, psychedelia and dub. The London-based trio have since released a four-track EP and done some touring — they were in New York the day before their 2.30am set at Electric Brixton, a gig celebrating the 10th birthday of their label Wormfood.
There was no sign of jet lag. After an atmospheric intro, in which washy cymbals combined with the bleeps and whooshes of extraterrestrial electronica, the band embarked on “Journey Through the Asteroid Belt”. Amid hip-hop-inspired beats, synth-player Danalogue the Conqueror (or Dan Leavers as Earthlings know him) shifted between spiralling keyboard runs and distorted bass throbs. As on other songs, this psychedelic swirl was grounded by simple chord progressions and catchy melody lines from tenor saxophonist King Shabaka ( Shabaka Hutchings ). Shabaka rarely deployed the sprawling scales typically used in jazz, instead creating hooks that were almost clubby in their relish of hypnotic repetition.
Indeed the show often felt more like a rave than a jazz gig. Frenzied strobe lighting accompanied percussionist Betamax Killer’s (alias Maxwell Hallett) four-to-the-floor renditions of songs that, on the album, have greater rhythmic complexity. A degree of dynamic variation and distinctiveness was lost too: the dull thud of the kick-drum buried the more ambient, dubby touches of the studio recordings, while Shabaka’s sax was so shrouded in reverb and delay it became nebulous, disappearing into a faraway galaxy.
Yet the three-piece’s energy was infectious. “Cosmic Dust” pulsed with punchy tribal drums before the penultimate song “Space Carnival” emerged as the set’s zenith, its snappy sax riff succumbing to thunderous bass and feverish Afrobeats. Though occasionally disintegrating into raucous noise, the gig challenged the perception of jazz as an austere genre for self-indulgent soloists and beard-strokers as a hip young audience danced into the early hours of the morning.
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