The Critics Riff On Burnt Sugar

All Ya Needs That Negrocity ~ Downbeat Magazine

Burnt Sugar, the provocative aggregate that was doing mashups before the term was even coined, returns with its most accessible offering. Greg Tate, the group’s ringleader, still emphasizes tex- tual ingenuity and controlled cacophony but the results are less murky and less derivative. During the band’s early years, Tate’s fascination with P-Funk, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Butch Morris’ conductions often got the best of the ensemble, making the music loud and quizzical but wanting for a distinctive sound beyond its influences. By moving to the center and at times concentrating more on durable songs, Burnt Sugar is inching its way into its own thing.

That said, the disc begins with two intrigu- ing makeovers: an Afro-Cuban take on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” and a noir-ish romp through Astor Piazzolla’s “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango).” In both instanc- es, Burnt Sugar tucks in its penchant for sonic aggression and allows the songs to reign. In turn, Mazz Swift’s haunting violin and Maya Azucena’s dramatic singing on the latter shine.

From there, things get hazier as Azucena and vocalists Abby Dobson and Lisala Beatty swap lead on the frontline, alternating between phan- tasmagorical singing to spoken-word erotica. The rotating cast of drummers and bassists gives the music an insistent, slow-roiling sensation, espe- cially on “Claudine,” which becomes an ideal vehicle for tenor saxophonist Harald Kisiedu. Vijay Iyer showcases his rhythmic flair on the afrobeat-inspired “Bliques Haff Moor Funn” and the avant-reggae dub “Blique Stategems.”

—John Murph

All Ya Needs That Negrocity ~ JazzTimes

You have to stretch your vocabulary to parse All Ya Needs That Negrocity, the pointedly titled 12th album from Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber. Burnt Sugar is the sprawling, tribal band Village Voice writer Greg Tate (on guitar, lyrics and laptop) and bassist Jared Michael Nickerson founded in 1999. The New York-based ensemble scrambles genres, paying homage to everyone from Ellington to Sun Ra to Hendrix to Parliament-Funkadelic in the process. There’s more: As interpreted by vocalists Lisala and Maya Azucena, Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” soars and pops, Mazz Swift’s dervish violin giving it a stunning Gypsy overlay. Burnt Sugar may be a collective, and it’s a jam band for sure, but Tate and Nickerson’s production guarantees each player full power, and the group’s purpose is unmistakable: to shake things up, your booty included. Frees your mind, too: Check out the pungent sax interplay on “Bliques Haff Moor Funn,” also a showcase for “Sugar emeritus” pianist Vijay Iyer.

Despite the stylistic versatility, the soundscape often conjures late electric Miles—Andre Lassalle, guitar ghoul on the scary “Throne of Blood 33 1/3,” blends Hendrix and Pete Cosey—and the politics are easily as subversive. On the poignant, angry “Burning Crosses,” Abby Dobson’s huge, plummy voice aches while Rene Akan’s guitar twines. This music is aggressive and fearless no matter the mode—and there are “soft” cuts. (Not many, though.) There’s also a hidden 12th track, a pushy venture with buried vocals and Tackhead drive saying it’s time to act like an African. Coming on the heels of the synth-drenched “Blood Music,” it’s advice the band also stresses in the album’s clever title. Question is, do you pronounce “negrocity” like “ferocity” or make it two words? Works both ways and then some, like the music itself.

Carlo Wolff

All Ya Needs That Negrocity ~ Black Grooves

Sonically and structurally grounded in jazz, Burnt Sugar’s latest album, All Ya Needs That Negrocity, continues the group’s tradition of exploding walls between genres. While there’s something for everyone here, the group’s commitment to idiosyncracy and hybridization runs deeper: they cite Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, and Parliament Funkadelic as influences, all artists who sampled freely from various genres of black music.  For Burnt Sugar (founded by bassist Jared Nick­er­son and Vil­lage Voice icon Greg Tate), constantly mixing genres is political, conscious subversion of the commodification of black music by the record industry.  And it sounds good, too.

The funky jazz-inflected opener, “The Cold Sweat Variations,” and the smooth almost-pop sound of “Burning Crosses” are winners.  The ethereal, sparsely-textured “Blique Strategems” is largely piano and electronics-driven, providing an aural rest from the album’s dense instrumentation.  Finally, the entrancing “Throne of Blood 33 1/3 (Encrypted Vernacular)” is jazzy with a quiet hip hop undercurrent that, over its nearly 13 minute playing time, gives way to more and more electronic intrusion until the track dissolves into itself.

David Lewis

Greg Tate’s Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber: Paint the Sky Red

“On Making Love to the Dark Ages (LiveWired), the latest recording by Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, Tate wields a baton along with a laptop and occasionally his trusty guitar. The results range from his expansive meditation on slavery, “Chains and Water,” full of free-blowing conversations between the horns and soulful vocals supplied by dynamic singer Lisala, to the electric Miles-ish groover “Love to Tical,” to the dreamlike, ambient, Eno-meets-Teo soundscape “Dominata,” which incorporates his audacious laptop experiments, to an intriguing mashup of Tate’s funky “Thorazine” with the Ron Carter-Miles Davis composition “Eighty-One” (from E.S.P.).”

Bill Milkowski

Fricke’s Picks: Big-Band Sugar and Brawn

“Led by guitarist-conductor Greg Tate, New York’s Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber is a fleet-footed big band, sliding and swaggering through galactic R&B, brawny jazz and electric funk like a Sun Ra-size spin on Miles Davis’ On the Corner band. Making Love to the Dark Ages (LiveWired) also comes with extra black rock: kinetic soloing by guest guitarist Vernon Reid of Living Colour.”

David Fricke, Rolling Stone

Burnt Sugar: That Depends on What You Know (Trugroid)

“A multi-ethnic troop of New York birth but no fixed genre, Burnt Sugar expand, contract and groove like liquid mercury across this three-CD suite of jams and dreams, the followup to the band’s 2001 debut, Blood on the Leaf. The Jimi Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield and Thelonious Monk covers dotting each volume (subtitles: The Sirens Return: Keep It Real ‘Til It Flatlines; The Crepescularium; Fubractive Since Antiquity Suite) mark the high roads Burnt Sugar take through modern black music. But under the baton of producer/guitarist Greg Tate, the voices, guitars, strings, keys, horns and percussion also summon overlapping echoes of George Clinton, the electric Miles Davis of Get Up With It, Lee Perry’s dark magic at Black Ark Studios, plantation blues and gangsta hip hop (minus the gats and ‘hos): Ellington to the future via the Grateful Dead’s Anthem of the Sun. You can buy the discs separately, one trip at a time. Or you can get all three and ride ’em to infinity.”

David Fricke,
From “Ten of the Best, From Under the Radar”

“A multiracial jam army that freestyles with cool telekinesis between the lustrous menace of Miles Davis On The Corner, the slash-and-om of 1970s King Crimson, and Jimi Hendrix moonwalk across side three of Electric Ladyland.”

David Fricke,  Rollingstone Magazine

The Sweet Funk of Burnt Sugar

“ If the history of music is a struggle for freedom, imagination, the liquidation of all barriers and boundaries, then the future is here. Greg Tate’s latest project, Burnt Sugar (The Arkestra Chamber) is the big band of the new millenium”

– Robin D. G. Kelley Cultural Critic
also from: Beneath the Underground:Exploring New Undercurrents in Jazz.

Burnt Sugar Live in Washington DC

“… Burnt Sugar aptly summoned the spirits of chaos and order to sublime effect, unleashing a ferocious performance that left many listeners speechless and others cheering for more. Lucky for the band, Tate’s understanding and love for Miles is so deep that Burnt Sugar avoided the pitfall of sounding like a repertoire band. And no matter how spacious the hypnotic grooves dissipated or abstract the orchestral colors grew, the music’s cohesiveness never fell apart..”

– John Murph,

Burnt Sugar Black Sex Y’All & Bloody Random Violets Review

“Burnt Sugar’s music is oceanic, and there’s been no sight of a shoreline since they set sail in 1999. Initial listening to Black Sex Y’all in its entirety may be exhausting – no smooth studio jam or cold conceptual experiment, the level of ambition and concomitant length (almost 140 minutes) raises the spectre of indulgence, but breadth and scope are central to the group’s endeavour.”

– Colin Buttimer, The BBC

Burnt Sugar: “The Rites”

“ …gentle string interludes that organically meld into fractured ambient washes to deep bass grooves and long guitar lines that produce soaring, sustained aches or disturbing subterranean agitations.”

– Tom Bojko on The Rites, The Japan Times

“It’s electric Miles with soul, Maggot Brain with a PHD, the Hendrix Evans band of dreams, the underwater funk some hear in A.R. Kane.”

Robert Christgau, The Village Voice.

“Guitarists Rene Akan, Morgan Craft and Kirk Douglass manage to sound massive yet patient; not at all how you’d imagine the typical three guitar cockfight.”

– Hua Hsu, The Wire.

“The sharp display of talent at Symphony Space’s Wall To Wall Miles tribute was complimented by Burnt Sugar’s expansive freeleaning set. Led by Gregory Tate, this enormous band incorporated whispered vocals, whistling, dulcimer, and more, held together by the funky bass playing of Jared Michael Nickerson.”

– Ann Powers, The New York Times.

“It’s intelligent, carnal, spiritual and shows a textural awareness altogether missing from way too much black music right now.”

– Peter Shapiro, The Wire

“Burnt Sugar is a musical all terrain vehicle; a smoldering concoction of sounds which teeter dangerously on the edge and shelters the spirit of a post Bitches Brew Miles Davis.”

– Sunil Chauhan, Straight No Chaser