Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber celebrates two decades of “never playing anything the same way once.” Founder (and acclaimed writer and cultural critic) Greg Tate and Business Manager ( and original member and electric bassist) Jared Michael Nickerson offer their thoughts on “20 Years of Avant Groiddnuss.”
Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber always gives tribute to our Sonic Sensei, The Maestro Lawrence Butch Morris (1947–2013) for showing us the way of ‘never playing anything the same way once’.
Toni Morrison and Samuel Delany have both said they write books they want to read but cannot find. The creation of Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber was based on attempting to address a similar absence in 1999. Another part of the process derived from being an inveterate reader of the British music magazine MOJO. A regular feature queries famous musicians about their favorite records—favorite Saturday night music, favorite Sunday morning music, favorite album of all time. Remember being flabbergasted that Ike Turner and Bootsy Collins gave the same answer: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. Came to find out this was also the case for a couple of other funky brothers I know with very eclectic tastes. Rumors was not that album for this reporter but when I posed the question to myself and let the answer float up out of my subconscious without premeditation it turned out to be Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. Which was fascinating. I would never have told you that was my favorite Miles album (Nefertiti) or even the Electric Miles album I loved the most (Dark Magus) or one of the Miles albums I’ve been the most emotionally touched by (Porgy and Bess, My Funny Valentine, In a Silent Way).
But Bitches Brew appeals to the part of the mind that’s deeply moved by Big Ideas and Monstrous Concepts. Bitches Brew is a meta-album, more epic and more mysterious than the sum of its moving parts, just like the work of certain Abstract painters we love—Mark Rothko, Cy Twombly, Frank Bowling—or the visionary minimalist sculpture of Richard Serra, Fred Eversley, Lonnie Holley, Donald Judd. Miles plays magnificent horn on the album but the point isn’t the bitch at the core of de ting but the brewing or what Frank Zappa would identify as the music’s cosmic debris. Back in 1999 not too many groups seemed to be making improvised experimental music with loud guitars and other electronic instruments that sounded as expansive, liberating, and borderless as BB did.So out went the call to our comrades, many from our long-running Black Rock Coalition cohort (Jared Michael Nickerson, Rene Akan, Jason DiMatteo, Swiss Chris, Qasim Naqvi, Bruce Mack, Vijay Iyer, Morgan Craft, Kirk Douglas), to jam and workshop in a rehearsal studio for a few Saturdays running on a project tagged as “our own Bitches Brew for Now.” First actual gig was the basement of CBGB’s, where many modern musical interventions were hatched; our first album, recorded December 9, 1999, at Peter Karl’s studio in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill, set us off on a course of making an album or two or three a year ever since, adding several additional mainstay players along the way: Lewis “Flip” Barnes, Lisala Beatty, Micah Gaugh, Karma Mayet Johnson, Trevor Holder, Tia Nicole Leak, Chris Eddleton, Mazz Swift, André Lassalle, Abby Dobson, Ben Tyree, V. Jeffrey Smith, “Moist” Paula Henderson, Dave “Smoota” Smith, Julia Kent, Leon Gruenbaum, Mikel Banks, Shelley Nicole, Avram Fefer, Satch Hoyt and Justice Dilla-X.
Built into Burnt Sugar’s conceptual frame was always the notion of assimilating our beloved late sensei Lawrence “Butch” Morris’s Conduction system for improvisers into our baton-whipped stank because we didn’t want to be stereotyped as a “jam band.” Three years later we got to record an album of adapted Stravinsky motifs, The Rites, under Butch’s magisterial baton with extra-special guests’ sauce provided by Pete Cosey, Melvin Gibbs, and Vijay Iyer.
Nobody way back when was thinking two decades of touring and recording would rush by at warp speed while we split options between pure unadulterated Conduction-centric shows created in the moment, and others that found us theatrically and adroitly tributing the likes of James Brown (at The Apollo, no less), Sun Ra (at Coney Island’s Sideshow Theatre with Brown Girls Burlesque, Lawdhamerci!!!), but day-yam, here we are. The canons and catalogues of Miles Davis, David Bowie, Rick James, Fleetwood Mac, Melvin Van Peebles, Steely Dan, DC Go Go and Prince’s Parade have also been rudely and rightfully exploited to expand our interpretive palette over this time span. We’ve also never stopped singing our own strange and bodacious songs. All in motion towards fulfilling our dual threat bass ace/band manager Jared Michael Nickerson’s prophetic statement to moi somewhere near the beginning of this journey that “We are going to be playing this music until we are very old men AND WOMEN.” Knock on wood and inshallah to that.
~ Greg Tate
After growing up in Dayton, Ohio – the “Funk Capitol” of the world; graduating with a business management degree from a prestigious Catholic college; booking a seven-piece Boston funk band for four years after a two year music school stint at NEC; traveling along the East coast with a very popular Cleveland Ohio rock quartet allowing me to socially “rub shoulders” with a number of rock promoters and club owners; then taking my experiences and connections to the Black Rock Coalition becoming the first Director of Operations where I arranged the first, two-day “Stalking Heads” festival with Hilly Crystal and Louise Parnassa Staley at NYC’s CBGBs ( a “shout out to my group at that time J.J. Jumpers ); moving on to become a player-for-hire learning from band leaders such as Wadada Leo Smith, Katell Keineg, Charlie Musselwhite, Catie Curtis, Matt Johnson of The The, Vernon Reid & DJ Logic, Tammy Faye Starlite, Freedy Johnston and Gary Lucas of Gods & Monsters to name a few … never did I imagine my journey would be preparation to book, promote, financially-guide and play electric bass in a conducted improvisational large band founded by one of the few Afro Avant Groidd savants of these times.
But here, twenty years later that’s just what has transpired. It’s been a blessing to have hit the stage, travel and break bread with so many uber-talented Artists while also building and maintaining a plethora of warm and friendly relationships with a number of Art Presenters around the globe.
I’d like to thank Jimmy Lee who’s been instrumental in my musical path two times with referrals to Freedy Johnston where I experienced the joy of “riding & low-fi gliding” through multiple nine-month tours; which developed my “road legs” for Matt Johnson and The The where I witnessed the “rare air” of the “First Class Baby” Rock & Roll world ( a “shout out to Depeche Mode ), and for referring me to Greg Tate.
I’d like to thank Greg for being that Avant Groidd renaissance man who brought me on at the very beginning where I witnessed him formulate, construct and, with his brilliant musical, lyrical, song structural ideas, fed and nurtured Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber from it’s inception in 1999 to this present day. We both quickly realized, after test-running the band in CBGB’s basement with Ronnie “Head” Draytone, Simmi, Bruce Mack, Michael Morgan Craft and Qasim Naqvi immediately followed by the “Blood On The Leaf” recording sessions, that this endeavor of sonically-flying without a written score in real time could be immensely musically enriching.
Then a “thank you” to Bill Bragin, who I’ve known since his days as a presenter at Haverford College, for directing us to the now defunct Arts International which “fed” Greg and I with a five-figure grant that literally got us up and running. At that time we were both blessed to be at a point in our lives where after leading groups simultaneously wearing both the musical & business hats, we came to an understanding to forge an alliance of running the band with a “Church (Artistic Greg) and “State” ( Business Jared) sensibility, with only the two of us as officers of the LLC and everyone else being independent contractors free to come and go as they pleased; looking back on it, that alone could very easily of been the most important decision we’ve made to date.
I’d like to thank the super-fab Burnt Sugar Arkestra Independent Players who’ve graced both of us with their mirth, love for adventure and musical nimbleness in the studio, on the stage and around the world. Along with the supreme dream players GT listed let me add Melvin Van Peebles, LaTasha Natasha Nevada Diggs, Brandon “Please Please Please” Victor Dixon, JS Williams, Marika Hughes, Napoleon Maddox, jessica Care moore, Asim Barnes, Meret Koehler, Jesse Dulman, Omega Sirius Moon, Amasa Bruce, Petre Radu Scafaru, Eisa Davis, Shawn Banks, Vernon Reid, Nioka Workman, Ronnie “Head” Draytone, Imani Uzuri, Thom Loubet, Duminie DePorres, W. Myles Reilly, Will Martina, Maximina Juson, Greg “G Squared” Gonzalez, James “Biscuit” Rouse, Curtis Stewart, Benjamin Sanz, Hiroyuki “Matsu” Matsuura, Derrin Maxwell, Carolyn “Honeychild” Coleman, Keith Witty, Shawn Banks and Jeremiah Abiah. As we like to say … “It takes a Village”, and as Folks on the inside have witnessed … this band is the perfect example befitting that adage.
I’d like to thank all the presenters around the world who’ve been open-eared & open-hearted, embracing and continually supporting our vision such as Jordana Leigh, Laura Greer, Leda LeQuerrec & Fabien Barotini, Philip Bither, Julie Hastings & Dr. Ajay Heble, John Gilbreath, Rainbow Robert, Achille Silipo & Sulis Basiliano Antonio, Garth Ross & Diana Ezerins, Viviana Benitez & Meera Dugal, Tom Welsh, Lawrence Baranski & Rudy Laurerman, Claudia Bestor, Joce & Jef Soubiran, Ed Cardoni & Steve Baczkowski, Alicia Le’Von Boone & Lauren Zelaya, Jack Walsh, Gabri Christa, Omrao Brown & Bobby Hill, Brice Rosenbloom, Xavier Lemettre, Lenny Seidman, Andrew Miller, Ken Inouye & Mr. Lou Molinaro, Guy Morley, Art Terry, Patrick Duval, Bojana Stancic & Sean O’Neill, Greg Baise, Ben Penigar & Scott Forsyth, Benjamin Sanz & Alexandre Pierrepont and most lovingly last Will K. Wilkens.
Then lastly, I’d like to especially thank these particular Folk of BSAC Family … Amy Gail on web presence, Amy Gail, LaRonda Davis, Jerri Meyers, Susanne Cerha, Kenya Robinson, & Nneka Bennett on graphic & visual design; Photographers Arthur Jafa, Petra Richterova, Barron Claiborne, Nisha Sondhe, Shane Nelson, Laura Williams, Martin Dixon, Rebecca Akan, Ginny Suss, Amy Touchette, Daryl Tillman; Peter Karl, Eric Ronick and Luqman Brown on recording and mixing; LaRonda Davis, a second time for driving and merchandise support; the “sugar spreading” radio DJ’s Charles Blass, J. Michael Harrison, John Gilbreath, Bobby Hill, Walt Misterg “Mr. G” Gnu, Michael Canton, Kevin Lincoln, Niki Dakota, Basim Blunt and Jim “Rev. Cool” Carter; a shout out to LiveWired’s Colin & Leni Faber, Charles Blass ( two times … ) and Bill Murphy for being a “mad cool” record label and a special shout out to all of the Retailers who have carried and promoted BSAC CD’s over the years NYC’s Downtown Music Gallery’s Bruce Gallanter & Emanuel “Manny” Maris, Pete, Chris and Daniel at Other Music, Dusty Groove America’s Doug Arnold in Chicago, Electric Fetus in Minneapolis and All the Folks at CD Baby.
Twenty years … unbelievable and astonishing that I’ve been in one band for so long. But being able to look back throughout the years, as if looking through clear waters running deep, allows me to recognize although it’s been a marathon and a grind at times, it’s also felt like a sprint cause I’ve so so enjoyed the journey and find myself “fresh” and ready for more, More and MORE … Let’s Go …“Burnt Sugar Baby” !!!!
~ Jared Michael Nickerson
Consider this Trilogy of 20th Anniversary mixtapes as invitational samplers–Astro-Black star gates to our many-splendored darkly energetic & celestial realm of cosmic riddim, esoteric rambunction, eclectic blue cheer & Oh, The Utter Negrocity Of It All!