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.


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 Jaz­zTimes


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