This is the beginning. Back in the summer of 1999 Greg Tate gathered a crew of eight musicians to flesh out an idea he had for a new type of band, to perform a new type of music. Those sessions and the following jams at Shariff Simmon's
throwdowns in the basement of CBGBs led to this recording. Of the 12 musicians
(not including tracks 1 & 6 by Moomtez, a previous Tate inception) on this recording, seven are still up in the sugar of the Arkestra Chamber today.
In Blood On The Leaf Opus No.1, Greg writes:
"So this is our bitches brew. Our my bloody whirled axe quartet. Our belated elegy for Eddie Hazel, A.R.Kane, and the black lesbian we once claimed to have buried in our bones. Our crude impersonation of a Butch Morris conduction. Our stab at signifyin' fuk electronica. we've got Rene Akan, our applejack tossed into yon whither the future of the phunk ring. Our anachronistic bid for 1983 a merman I will be status. A wink and a nod to Mwandishi, sun Ra, the Motor Booty Affair, Drexciya and Kodwo Eshun.
The music on this album, with duly noted exceptions, was recorded in a single four-hour session on December 19,1999. Except for Blood on the Leaf, nothing was rehearsed or prearranged but the electric bass parts. Meaning anything that sounds like it was orchestrated beforehand was actually improv-ed and conducted into being on the spot, on the fly, off the cuff, in the raging, bloody-impromtu moment. We point this out not to rank our approach above more time-consuming methods, or to toot our own horns too loudly (not too much anyhoo). We do so to proclaim that conducted orchestral improvisation is the preferred mode of channeling for this Gotham-based ensemble of African-Americans, South Asians,Oregoneans, Minnesotans, Ohioans and the one and only Swiss Chris. Everyone of them a border-crossing trans-national whether they'll admit it or not. Spontaneous combustion being an occupational hazard in Gotham, Burnt Sugar is how we keep it Real, Surreal, Arboreal, Aquatic, Incendiary. If only because we might be mistaken for the world's second fully improvisational acid-funk band.
Some of us play with Steve Coleman, some of us play in Rolling Stone cover bands. Some have stints with Jeff Buckley and Gary Lucas in their resumes. Others can list James Blood Ulmer, the Holmes Brothers, Carl Hancock-Rux, and Earthdriver, and at least one of us is a graduate of the Actors Studio. Most are amazingly proficient and prolific composers and bandleaders in their own right. Post-grunge to post-philly international to post-subotnick the flavors run.
But enough about us.
The conductor's role is akin to Mickey Mouse in the sorcerer's apprentice section of Fantasia. Diddling with forces he doesn't quite understand, snapping his fingers, opening the floodgates, occasioning a deluge. Drowning the room in the music of African ascent. Strictly originals. Sounds peculiar to Harlem. To quote a Trugroid advertising slogan or three. Trugroid. As in real cullud. Too black. Quite Negroidal.
As in, finally a storefront for black alternative music. Burnt Sugar is a territory band, a neo-tribal thang, a community hang. A society-music guild aspiring to the condition of all that is molten, glacial, racial, spacial, oceanic, mythic, antiphonal and telepathic. But being human we have endeavored to leave in as many mistakes as humanly possible.
To quote Arthur Jafa, we don't strive to be original but aboriginal. Like the songlines and the dreaming, like Tracey Moffatt and the Last Wave, like Cubase and Cabrini Green. One foot in the prehistoric, the other in the posthuman. In this journey you're the journal and we're the journalists. Houston do you read and whatnot. Oh the utter Negrocity of it all."