CD review

Coma World – ‘Coma World’

Coma World – Coma World
(Byrd Out Records BYR028. Review by Graham Spry)

Coma World, the new album by the eponymous Coma World duo, was inspired by the recollections of a friend of theirs who had been in a coma. And this ‘coma world’ is expressed as something woozy, unfocused, sometimes quite frightening, but anchored by a deep rhythm that evokes the sense of self that might help sufferers with their recovery. The result is described by the musicians as ‘a sonic womb-like world’. The album is heard best with the volume set high.

The two musicians who make up Coma World are drummer Betamax (Maxwell Hallett) and electric bassist Pete Bennie, in a new collaboration, but this is not just a recording of two musicians playing together. It is a collection of chiefly improvised recordings by the two artists which are then mixed, layered and distorted on the mixing deck, as is the norm in dub and electronic dance music by such practitioners as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the Orb , and Andrew Weatherall (1963-2020). Indeed, the music more resembles the music of Andrew Weatherall than that of a mainstream jazz musician, in particular in his 90s recordings as the Sabres of Paradise. Byrd Out has released albums by both Perry and Weatherall.

Jazz fans will be most familiar with Betamax for his work as a member of The Comet is Coming, the trio led by Shabaka Hutchings that is responsible for some of the most exhilarating and exciting records generated by the current London jazz scene. Those familiar with The Comet is Coming will recognise Betamax’s ‘rhythmadelic’ drum sounds, as the drummer describes it, which are clearly influenced by the rhythms and experimentalism of dub. Pete Bennie’s often wonky bass guitar is a good accompaniment, sometimes reminiscent of Thundercat, although his principal musical influences are in the diverse rhythms associated with hip-hop.

There is a consistent and engaging sound through this album most of whose titles are evocative of the mental states associated with a coma. The tune Mind Grinder, for instance, pummels the listener into the kind of submission that one might expect with the condition. The first track, Wipe and Erase, opens with a wash of noise that settles into the deceptively restful opening rhythms of Megaton which gradually become more menacing as it evolves into something akin to a death metal instrumental. Many tracks disorientate the listener with their use of reverb, echo and electronics such as Strangers in the Home, Duty to Die, Wild Colours, No Focus and Paranoid Visions of Worm. Others are just great tunes that could be happily listened to outside of the context of this album, such as Thief, Bouncing Bunnies and Wake and Fake. The danceable lead single off the album, Cream Submarine, is available on the album both in its original psychedelic wooziness and as a remix by the Polish dub experimentalists Sarmacja. The single that accompanies the album’s release is the relatively calm Some Sleep for the Weak which invokes an image of lazily drifting along a river or canal.

Whether this album is jazz or something else entirely is debatable, but it will appeal to jazz enthusiasts who enjoy The Comet is Coming. Underneath the layering and production is the duo’s accomplished musicianship. The album has achieved its objective of evoking the disorientation of a distorted awareness. The album is released on the Byrd Out record label, whose name is an intentional homage to jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd: label proprietor Stephen Vitkovitch admits to having a particular fascination for the 1973 album Street Lady. Donald Byrd’s mission was to release music which is both clearly contemporary and firmly anchored in older non-ephemeral musical traditions. Coma World is exactly in that spirit.

LINK: Coma World on Bandcamp

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