Speaking of "Negrocity" a new review from 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 intriguing 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 instances, 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, especially 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
Jazz Times by Carlo Wolff:
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. ( originally published in the March 2012 issue. )
A review from a recent Burnt Sugar performance in Schenectady N.Y. at the Proctors Theater.
Review by J. Hunter
Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber’s closing number was a burning medley of “Let’s Dance” and “Fame,” a quick glimpse of the tribute show they did to David Bowie a few years ago. On the other side of the GE Theatre (and I do mean the other side), the audience sat firmly in their seats. It wasn’t that they weren’t enjoying themselves – far from it! It’s just that after the two-set assault of this towering juggernaut, the crowd’s collective brain had pretty much shorted out.
To give you some perspective, we’re talking a ten-piece group with a leader (former Village Voice columnist Greg Tate) who also plays rhythm guitar when he isn’t conducting the band – and when he wasn’t conducting, the job was ably handled by either vocalist Mikel Banks, violinist Mazz Swift or keyboardist Bruce Mack. On one side of the stage was a two-person reed section that handled spaced-out jazz and down-and-dirty funk with equal dexterity, while the other side was held down by a guitarist whose solo lines were nearly as blinding as his wardrobe choices. What we have here is the musical equivalent of a 700-pound gorilla: It does whatever it sets out to do, and accomplishes it with the kind of crushing power normally associated with nuclear submarines and fire-breathing dinosaurs.
The proceedings started with a rising vocalese by Banks, Swift, Mack, and primary vocalist Abby Dobson; Tate shaped it, built it up, and then triggered a blistering groove by the rest of the band. Swift and guitarist Andre Lassalle traded solo blasts while Mack filled in behind and Tate incited multi-instrumentalist V. Jeffery Smith and bari-sax queen Moist Paula Henderson to bring it a little harder. Banks had his own sax, a toy-looking thing dubbed the “freak-a-phone” that made amazing sounds not found in nature. The only way Jared Micheal Nickerson’s bass could have been fatter is if it took cheese intravenously, and drummer LaFrae Sci watched Tate’s every move as she laid down a hellacious beat, her smiling expression clearly saying, “Come on, man! Is that all you got?!”
The first set mixed pieces from Burnt Sugar’s new disc “All Y’all Needs That Negrocity” with searing covers of Bowie and James Brown. Smith’s tenor sax was closer to Maceo Parker then Andy Mackay on “Rebel Rebel”, but his fills soon attained an appropriate level of insanity as Banks sold the lyric perfectly and Tate steered the song’s closing in a ska/funk direction. Smith and Henderson combined to give Swift’s take on Brown’s “Rock Me Again & Again” some serious muscle, and the three-part harmony Swift made with Banks and Dobson was truly galvanizing. Dobson’s got the kind of vocal range you associate with opera singers, and she clearly communicated the uneasiness of the protagonist in “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango).”
Given the dancing feeling of the first set, you’d figure Burnt Sugar would crank that up a notch in the second set and fill the club-like floor Proctors had set up. The thing is, though, Tate and the group shifted the paradigm by sliding into a dizzying, multi-faceted space jam that took you right back to the glory days of jazz fusion: The base was Miles Davis, but the overall product was closer to On the Corner than Bitches Brew. Sci still kept a tight beat, but Swift and Lassalle were doing business in a completely different dimension. Mack’s keyboard lines followed them down the wormhole, and Bank’s contributions on freak-a-phone made impossible to tell if those incredible sounds were coming from Lassalle, Banks, or some tripped-out Theremin player on Alpha Centauri. 45 minutes of this kind of treatment and it’s no wonder the audience was fused to the seats.
Proctors is known primarily for the national stage shows it brings to this area, and this night was no exception: The evening performance of “Shrek the Musical” was letting out as I made my way to the parking lot. Fortunately, Proctors management is using the facility’s multiple venues to present artists that go beyond their usual fare. The three-show series “Party Horns NYC” will feature performances by Brooklyn Qaali Party and Dead Cat Bounce, but those bands will have to work like demons to equal the seismic impact of Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber.
SCHENECTADY DAILY GAZETTE
Saturday, January 28, 2012
By Michael Hochanadel—
Thrilling, funky, complicated, compelling, the awkwardly named hybrid hyperactive hipster band Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber threw down and all around at Proctors GE Theater on Saturday.
The tight and tasty ten-piece crew echoed James Brown’s JBs, Sun Ra’s Solar Arkestra, Parliament/Funkadelic (though nobody played in diapers as some P/Funk members do) and Carla Bley’s and Frank Zappa’s bigger bands.
“Blood of the Seraphim” and “Libertango/I’ve Seen That Face Before” deconstructed these rock and tango numbers with crisp precision, with Tate conducting and rearranging on the fly. This required hyper-alertness by the players, because Tate might call on them at any time to solo or lay out. The only flubs all night were when players kept vamping after they were cued out. This guaranteed freshness and ferocity.
After these two tunes, Burnt Sugar ran a seamless segue from the funky “Rebel on a Sinking Ship” into David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel,” dazzling and really rocking. Then it was back to the funk for James Brown’s “JB’s Comin’ Through,” “Message to a Soul Sister” — sung strongly by Abby Dobson, violinist Mazz Swift and saxophonist Mikel Banks — and “Rock Me Again,” with Swift leading a singalong.
The second set was more abstract and challenging as Burnt Sugar disassembled and slammed together shards of songs by Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman. An hour-long suite started with noisy noodling before forming a vamp via a bristling cacophony. They stayed pretty far outside for that whole explosive exploration and came to earth only in a medley of James Brown’s “There Was a Time” with David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and “Fame.”
Burnt Sugar’s resourceful recycling of familiar songs had outstanding imagination and easy virtuosity that belied their part-time status. They were less derivative than ingenious and skilled at every position. Saxophonists Banks, V. Jeffrey Smith (tenor, soprano and flute) and Paula Henderson (baritone, almost bigger than she was) played sharp as a section and soloed fearlessly. Tate and Andre Lassalle played busy rhythm guitar in the arrangements and bold solos over them. Drummer LaFrae Sci wielded her sticks with weightlifter’s arms and perfect time, while bassist Jared Michael Nickerson and keyboardist Bruce Mack glued it all together. Tate, Banks or Mack conducted, stopping and starting stuff, waving players in and out of the flow and re-inventing everything, all the time.
The GE Theater was in cabaret trim Saturday with just four rows of seats behind an open space, with cocktail tables up front and a single row of chairs at the edge on each side, closer to the bandstand. The seats were mostly full — of happy, dazzled people, swung by the jazz, bounced by the funk and rocking with the rock.
On November 5th, the day Nat King Cole debuted his national broadcasted tv show; Shirley Chisholm (NY) and Louis Stokes (OH) where elected to Congress and Lieutenant General Colin Powell was named White House National Security Adviser, Burnt Sugar Arkestra releases their eleventh studio album, ALL YA NEEDS THAT NEGROCITY, on their own nouveau AVANT GROIDD MUSICA imprint.
Burnt Sugar still proclaims their genre to be ‘Conduction’ with all praise due to Butch Morris ‘for showing us The Way. Never smooth jass, just hella-bumpy.
Now entering their second decade, Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber continues an obsessive drive to bring Frankenstein back to musical hybridity--brutally grafting and re-charging funkystanknasty older tribal forms with present-day post-soul energies while leaving all manner of wires, lesions, sutures, scars and microsurgical filigree loose, open and lubricious in the bloody bargain.
This new recording corrals and marshalls all the familiar mainstay playas from the infinite BS massive: Ion Conductor Greg Tate, Bass Overseer Jared Michael Nickerson, The Dastardly Synth Wizz Bruce Mack, Trumpet Don Dada Lewis Flip Barnes, Violin Sensei Mazz Swift, Upright Bottom Specialist FC Jason Di Matteo, and those Saxophone Majesties Avram Fefer, Micah Gaugh and Moist Paula Henderson.
Present once again are that randy round-robin of dynamic guitar and drumming talent forever at Burnt Sugar’s disposal: Chris Eddleton, Trevor Holder, Meret Koehler, & Qasim Naqvi pounding dem skins; Rene Akan, Andre Lassalle, Thom Loubet and Ben Tyree whangin twanging and banging de plectrums and six-strings. Enfolded again are longtime in-house Throat Miners Mikel Banks and Lisala.
As always, the ensemble makes room for a few special; guests, notably Sugar emeritus Vijay Iyer on acoustic piano, Yale Professor and Fela biographer Michael Veal on soprano saxophone and Fender bass, drum scribe+Booty Doctor Swiss Chris Flueck, and avant-soul vocalists supreme Maya Azucena and Abby Dobson. A poetic recitation from acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Lisa Teasley can be heard up in the mix too.
The music ranges from an oblique and polymeric percussive variation on James Brown and Pee Wee Ellis’ uber-funk classic “Cold Sweat’’ to an unindexed ghost track known only as “Start Thinking Like An African’’. There is a sui generis version of Astor Piazolla’s ‘Libertango’ featuring Lisala and Maya Azucena--a jam partly inspired by Grace Jones’ interpretation, partly by Santana’s Lotus, and partly by John Phillip Sousa. Tate contributes a stratosphere-seeking original ‘Burning Crosses’ , which as sung by Abby Dobson strafes the crossroads where King Crimson and Larry Levan might readily have sold their souls to scream like Maria Callas.
Those who tend to prefer their Burnt Sugar in a more traditional freeformfunkadafide filth marathon mode won’t be disappointed by the relentless horn, guitar and Garage Band workouts heard on The Guru’s Lover’’, ‘’Bliques Hafff Moor Funn’’ and ‘’Whut Rough Beast?’’. The latter track , thanx to Lisala, answers the question of what Miles Davis’ Agharta unit might have sounded like cornered in a Baptist Church some night over Egypt, Louisiana.
Burnt Sugar’s debts to Pete Cosey, Derrick May and Akira Kurosawa come stamped paid in full on “Throne of Blood 33 1/3 (Encrypted Vernacular).
Even more surprises await the intrepid listener who dives headfirst into ALL YA NEEDS THAT NEGROCITY-- the next thrilling chilling and spilling entry in the glossolalia prone Burnt Sugar starlog.
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, Meret Koehler, 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 do 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 4 guitar line-up with Rene Akan, Morgan Michael Craft, Ronnie 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.
Founded by monster bassist Jared Michael Nickerson and Village Voice icon Greg "Ionman" Tate in 1999, Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber is a sprawling band of musicians whose prodigious personnel allows the "Sugar" to freely juggle a wide swath of the experimental soul-jazz-hip hop spectrum. This very accomplished crew has playing credits that range from Melvin Van Peebles, Toshi Reagon, Gordon Gano, DJ Logic, TV On The Radio, Tamar Kali, Phish, William Parker, The The, Liz Wright, Freedy Johnston, The Holmes Brothers, Wadada Leo Smith, Gary Lucas, David Murray, Charlie Musselwhite and Joseph Bowie.
Arkestra Conductor Greg Tate says, "Burnt Sugar got the nerve to claim Sly Stone, Morton Feldman, Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix and Jean Luc Ponty as progenitiors. Our player-ranks include known Irish fiddlers, AACM refugees, Afro-punk rejects, unrepentant beboppers, feminist rappers, jitterbugging doowoppers, frankly loud funk-a-teers and rodeo stars of the digital divide."
After two years spent performing the musics of Melvin Van Peebles, Miles Davis, David Bowie and James Brown in venues as disparate as Lincoln Center, The Apollo Theatre, Sons d'hiver Festival in Paris France and Rikers Island Prison, Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber returns to it's conducted improvisational form to celebrate the release of their new studio album 'ALL YA NEEDS THAT NEGROCITY' (AVANT GROIDD MUSICA )
Our First Negrocity Review:
Archives of African American Music & Culture
November 1st, 2011
All Ya Needs That Negrocity
Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber
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 the Arkestra Chamber (founded by bassist Jared Michael 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.
If you can’t wait for the November 5 release date to hear Burnt Sugar, be sure to check out their other genre-bending albums (see previous Black Grooves reviews for Making Love to the Dark Ages (2009) and More Than Posthuman: Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion (2006). And of course if you live in New York City, you can attend the upcoming CD release party, or catch one of their many live shows which tend to be organized around funky themes such as “Burnt Sugar Freaks the James Brown Songbook.”
Reviewed by David Lewis