After a flurry of solo activity in the late 00’s, Aaron Martin released a number of excellent collaborations, including Day Has Ended with Christoph Berg and the album/duo named From the Mouth of the Sun with Dag Rosenqvist. Comet’s Coma is his first all-new solo work in years, and it surpasses expectations; in fact, it’s his best overall work since Chautauqua.
The album begins with a needle in a locked groove, a disorienting sound on a CD, but welcome just the same. As it grows in volume, it begins to sound like a campfire or a river, as well it may be, given Martin’s propensity for field recordings. The vinyl next appears on “Gathered at the Edges”, offering tones of soothing nostalgia. The warmth of analogue is still important to the artist, no matter what the format.
All told, Martin plays seventeen instruments on the album, which lends it a richness of timbre seldom found on solo works; and yet the one thing his fans live for – in fact, what Martin himself may live for – is the cello, which first nudges its way into the foreground at 1:59 of “Lost to Light”, retreating less than a minute later to leave listeners breathless with anticipation. Martin is well acquainted with the power of restraint, and just when it seems that the cello was a trick of the light, a sonic phantasm, it reappears deep into the track, shining its warmth on all of the other instruments, who bow low as if greeting a benign king. And the third time … our cups overflow.
The beauty of the album is visible even on the cover: a lone dancer, unconcerned with audience or any lack thereof, confidently bending into the aquamarine. Martin has always operated this way as well: iconoclastic and yet surprisingly intimate. The discipline it takes to teach one’s self the cello is one thing, but to absorb the lessons of the lap steel, singing bowls and mbira is another. It’s as if the artist is constantly searching for new colors with which to paint, refusing to be defined by a single palette. Layering instruments is a lot like layering coats of paint, and Martin is a patient painter, waiting for each layer to dry before applying another, unafraid to leave the flecks for tonal contrast. In another sense, he’s like a chef without a recipe, instinctively able to add flavors until it just tastes right.
Is it any surprise that Martin occasionally breaks into wordless song? Sometimes, in the middle of a piece, there’s no extra arm to reach for an additional instrument, not a second to lose when one can intuit the celestial harmony. The sacred harp marks “Pulled out, Pulled under” with a holy seal, a sign of deliverance. Would that we might always be at peace. This time, when the cello visits, it does with sorrow, sharing the burden of the troubled soul, becoming heavier that the soul may grow lighter. The album’s happiest tones arrive a single track later, as if examining themselves, checking for scorches, marveling that they have made it through the fire. A warm mist settles in like the coma of the comet passing near the sun. (Richard Allen)