The Negrocity Follies

(In which The Ion­man aggres­sive­ly mis-con­ducts him­self dur­ing anoth­er absurd­ly onanis­tic self-inter­view.…)

So the new Burnt Sug­ar record is called ALL YA NEEDS THAT NEGROCITY. Any expla­na­tions of ‘Negroc­i­ty’ forth­com­ing?

Naw, not real­ly. Be kin­da redun­dant. Self-explana­to­ry in a world where Three Six Mafia is win­ning Oscars and Rick Ross is a sex god. Negroc­i­ty has become a glob­al neces­si­ty. It may have even joined the four essen­tial food groups. Thing is, Burnt Sugar’s Negroc­i­ty is more like Ralph Ellison’s lead char­ac­ter. Hid­den in plain sight but most like­ly to kick­start a musi­cal race riot at a moment’s notice.

You’re fre­quent­ly asked to label or describe Burnt Sugar’s music. After ten years of such mad­den­ing inquiries what have you boiled your answer down to?

Nev­er smooth jass just hel­la bumpy’’. Real­ly still just Black Music since black is still all the col­ors smut­ted togeth­er. All kid­ding and kib­itz­ing aside, we sim­ply play the game of Con­duc­tion. As we are for­ev­er giv­ing thanks to Butch Mor­ris for show­ing us The Way.

There’s a James Brown song on NEGROCITY which sounds quite ‘bumpy’

The Cold Sweat Vari­a­tions’’. Yes, I agree. Mad hel­la-bumpy for real. Fea­tures our trum­peter Lewis Flip Barnes. Who many of your read­ers know from his work with var­i­ous Williams Park­er projects.. We’ve been know­ing Flip for about 35 years now. Met him on The Yard at Howard University,The Cap­stone of Negro Edu­ca­tion. He was always cross cam­pus to class car­ry­ing around a trum­pet case though he played in no school band. Mean­while we were rock­ing our first instru­ment, this lil Pana­son­ic boom-box upon which we’d only blast the John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders Live In Seat­tle ver­sion of ‘Out of This World’’’. We bond­ed over our mutu­al­ly abstract and high­ly con­cep­tu­al rela­tion­ship to avant-garde musi­cal­i­ty. BTW Please note that on The Cold Sweat Vari­a­tions’’ our drum­mer Qasim Naqvi gives you a vine like Zakair Hus­sein duk­ing it out with Elvin Jones. Bent and slight­ly spas­tic head arrange­ment by our depart­ing Utah bound pianist Myles Reil­ly.

Might be the first arrange­ment of a James Brown song we’ve heard with not only no bass, no voice and no gui­tar but no dis­cernible down­beat.

Such a light and hap­py begin­ning for such a dark­ling album. For the record, Flip kin­da hates it — a lil too avant-garde even for him. But he knows the deal: the game of Con­duc­tion has nev­er claimed to be demo­c­ra­t­ic. Band knows the deal. You don’t want to hear it on a record, don’t play it in the stu­dio. Unless you’re Lisala. She’s The Queen Bee and we’’re all the drones a bit scared of her. Sis­ter does these wicked impres­sions of every­body in the band that can make your gonads snap off.

Well alrighty now. Lisala sings on NEGROCITY’s ver­sion of Astor Piazzola’s “Lib­er­tan­go”.

With some adroit spo­ken word there pro­vid­ed by the won­der­ful avant-soul artist Maya Azu­ce­na. The vio­lin of Mazz Swift is also a major mood fac­tor in our inter­pre­ta­tion of this very moody song. Maybe the best tune we know about a free woman being chased by her own shad­ow through the streets of Paris.

There tend to be a lot of free women in Burnt Sug­ar. More than usu­al for a a band that traf­fics in the freer side of impro­vised music. La Frae Sci, Shel­ley Nicole, Lisala, Moist Paula Hen­der­son, Mazz Swift, Kar­ma Mayet John­son, Latasha Neva­da Dig­gs, Imani Uzuri and Maya Azu­ce­na from time to time–and now the great Abby Dob­son too.

I’d like to say it was some enlight­ened act of gen­der-bal­anc­ing to insure the chro­mo­so­mal array of the music. But we’re not that sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly advanced. Its just when Nubian god­dess­es show up on your band­stand what else can you but get the eff out way and say; ‘’Gwaan gyall gwaan and do that stuff’’.

Abby Dob­son kills on ‘’Burn­ing Cross­es’’. Some dense lyrics there. Inspired we take it by the link between the Civ­il Rights Move­ment, Abu Ghrabe, The Chica­go Eight, and the Arab Spring.

Abby strafes that track like a horde of Kamikaze Valkyries.

On the med­ley of ‘’The Gurus Lover/Claudine’’ the album makes a shift from vocal-fea­ture mate­r­i­al to the long form improv you’ guys are bet­ter known for. Is this because you guys have spent the last two years being more of a glo­ri­fied James Brown Melvin Van Pee­bles Miles Davis David Bowie cov­er band than play­ing the game of Con­duc­tion.

Pret­ty much. All the more rea­son to come back with an album that had sev­er­al exces­sive tor­tur­ing min­utes of that freeform funkdafied filth our instru­men­tal­ists do so wild­ly. Cats stretch­ing out long and strong on their axes with­out a para­chute, a com­pass or a chain­saw in sight

You say instru­men­tal­ists but Lisala turns up on the appro­pri­ate­ly named “Whut Rough Beast”.

Fun­ny that. We con­sid­er OUR vocal­ists to be instru­men­tal­ists too. Espe­cial­ly when they make up lyrics, melodies and sound effects on the spot, in the bloody moment, when all about them are los­ing their heads and mor­ph­ing quite like mad. There’s anoth­er good descrip­tion of our music: Xenomor­phic. Like The Alien that Niger­ian broth­er Bola­ji Bade­jo played in the orig­i­nal Rid­ley Scott flick. Also check the “Whut Rough Beast” bass line, where Jared Michael Nick­er­son is the teth­er AND mad pump­ing the low rid­er-nuss in that joint!

The mag­nif­i­cence that is pianist Vijay Iyer appears on one cut too. As does Yale Pro­fes­sor Michael Veal who wrote those great books on Fela and dub music.

Mike plays quite a mean bass and just ridicu­lous sopra­no sax­o­phone on the album. He’ll kick your ass on gui­tar, traps, game­lan tanned bata drums if you let him as well. Some heads don’t know Vijay is an orig­i­nal Burnt Sug­ar. Going back to those first stu­dio jam ses­sions we did on 26th Street at Count­Down Stu­dios in the sum­mer of ‘99. Jared on bass, Bruce Mack on synth, Trevor Hold­er on drums and our orig­i­nal 3 gui­tar line-up with Rene Akan, Mor­gan Craft, Ron­ny Dray­ton and that badass mofo Kirk Dou­glas who left us and ran off with The Roots.

Has Garage Band offi­cial­ly joined Burnt Sug­ar? How much did Steve Jobs pay y’all for that?

Naught but a pit­tance and pen­ny far­thing. We’ve been strug­gling for three years to get the com­bi­na­tion of GB loops and live sound mad-organ­ic. Final­ly seems to have togeth­er on that track Vijay gets down on, “Bliques Haff Moor Funn”. Dit­to “Throne of Blood 33 1/3 (Encrypt­ed Ver­nac­u­lar)” which was just Garage Band, Mikel Banks on Freak-a-Phone and those tor­rid twin gui­tar tyros Rene Akan and Andre Las­salle. “Throne” is also a homage to many a 90’s night spent lost in the groove at these gone but not for­got­ten New York House Music clubs: Nells, The Shel­ter, Pal­la­di­um, Lime­light, Sound Fac­to­ry. That’s when and where we came to real­ize the Beethovens, Brahms and (James) Brown of today are all the true DJs –all the ones who respect and twerk The Mix at that mas­ter­class lev­el.

One more thing. About the ghost track, ‘Start Think­ing Like An African’’ –who’s that try­ing to sing on that joint in that crazy WTF pseudoAfrican Caribbean accent?

We don’t know what you talk­ing about Willis.

ALL YA NEEDS THAT NEGROCITY. Release Date: Novem­ber 5, 2011