"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." David Fricke - Rolling Stone
"Making Love to the Dark Ages" marks Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber's Tenth Anniversary.
Here's a few more new reviews:
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 - Rock & Roll Daily - 6/9/09
All About Jazz - Philadelphia PA
Composer Greg Tate leads Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber through melodic and harmonic structures, using a unique repertoire of physical gestures and expressions known not as conducting but as conduction. Tate christened this ensemble to honor the communal exploratory nature of Sun Ra's Arkestra and the Wu Tang Clan's 36 Chambers: "I wanted to conflate those two mystical generations. Both are in the tradition of mystic composers. Their sound comes from these ideas about science and art and philosophy and spirituality. As a listener to both of them, you feel like the metaphysics are as important as the music; they're kind of interwoven, and I wanted to allude to both of them."
As can be surmised from Tate's explanation, Dark Ages is a sprawling, audacious survey of not only jazz (Sun Ra) and pop (Wu Tang) but of blues, gospel, pretty much every corner of the Afro-American musical spectrum, within song titles as evocative as the music they represent.
"Thorazine/81"—inscrutably co-credited to Tate, Miles Davis and Ron Carter—comes closest to one of Ra's (in)famous interstellar overdrives: While multiple soloists (including a wordless vocalist) simultaneously wail the blues, its repeating rhythm riff seems to just pound the body, then reach critical mass, explode, and then to simply fall apart. It ends in whispered acoustic piano and other instruments, as if Tate's living, breathing ensemble needed to catch its living breath.
"Chains and Water (A, B, C)" opens as a duet between a female voice and harmonica, both wailing the blues ("I never cottoned to no slavery" is a great opening line whose time seems long overdue) but ultimately passes through twenty different musicians. The rhythm session shuffles in to expand the rhythm, then other instruments expand the sound, which culminates in Rene Akan's "Part B" screaming jazz-rock electric guitar solo, then sort of wobbles, and then gets straightened out by old-school, upright walking bass and drums.
For those wondering: Tate might not be mining the most original sound, but it's a pleasure to report that Dark Ages sounds only remotely like Miles Davis' (in)famous electric ensembles exactly one time—when Lewis "Flip" Barnes' electric trumpet comes ghosting in and out of the title track "Part A"—and even this sonic similarity lasts only a few measures. The rest of that title track, as well as the rest of Dark Ages, sounds like many things, and "original" stands chief among them. - Chris M. Slawecki
CD Review: Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber: Making Love to the Dark Ages
May 8, 2009
Believe it or not, this is the tenth album by sprawling avant-jazz megaplex Burnt Sugar. Conceived in 1999 by former Village Voice critic and author Greg Tate as a continuation of what Miles Davis was doing circa Bitches Brew – although they’re a lot closer to the Art Ensemble of Chicago or some of Sun Ra’s deeper-space explorations – Burnt Sugar quickly earned a following both for their epic, atmospheric live performances, and because there were so many people in the band. The full contingent numbers over fifty, including bass star Jared Nickerson (a Tammy Faye Starlite alum), noted jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and baritone sax goddess Paula Henderson of Moisturizer (who also leads a miniature version of the band playfully called Moist Sugar). While the Arkestra Chamber is also a smaller version of the group, the soundscapes on this album are no less vast for the contributions of a couple dozen fewer players. Because of the band’s deliberately improvisatory nature, don’t expect to be able to hear any of the songs on the cd in concert: this is simply the group on a good night when everybody was feeling what they were. Which was good, and always seems to be the case – this cd is nothing if not fun.
With so many people in the band, how do they hold it together? Typically, by throwing chord changes out the window. In place of traditional Western melodic tropes, the band substitutes innumerable dynamic shifts, subtle variations in tempo, parts rising and slowly sinking out of a massive wash of sound. The effect is supremely psychedelic, even trance-inducing. Most of the tracks segue into each other: to go so far as giving them each a name is a bit of a stretch. The opening cut Chains and Water is a long, three-part suite, a typical one-chord jam spiced early on with sax and blues harp solos and an infrequent vocal. The production goes dubwise at the end, whistles and other various disembodied textures floating through the mix, horn charts rising and falling. Part two gets all chaotic, swirling around a repetitive syncopated single-note riff by the massive horn section, finally brought out of the morass on the wings of a nasty, darkly bluesy guitar solo and finally, the hint of a hook, a four-note descending bassline.
Thorazine/Eighty One fades up, anything but a downer layered over a dark, circular bass motif, eventually slowing way down to a long coda, then building skeletal from there with screechy sax and everybody nonchalantly floundering around. Love to Tical is a boisterous funk jam, predictably crescendoing to a searing, spacy guitar solo, then to soprano sax, a chorus of women chanting “feel, feel, feel” distant in the background. From there they segue into Dominata, which gets considerably quieter, layers of cloudy horns over tinkly piano with a bass blip or two.
But just when you think that’s all there is to this group, they hit you upside the head with the fiery title track in all its searing, violin-driven, Middle Eastern-inflected majesty. Like the rest of the tracks here, it’s an epic and it’s worth your investment as the suite morphs into raw, noir trip-hop menace and then into buoyant loungey atmospherics. A smartly chosen number to end a good late-night headphone album on a high note.
All About Jazz CD Reviews
Making Love to the Dark Ages
Burnt Sugar / The Arkestra Chamber | LiveWired Music (2009)
By Glenn Astarita
Style: Fringes of Jazz
Published: May 12, 2009
This band partly signifies the New York City downtown aura that resides as a major genre-slashing musical force, spanning several decades. Led by bandleader Greg Tate who lifts a few pages from conductor/composer Butch Morris' conduction modus operandi, where hand gestures, eye contact and motion serve as the guiding light. With structured song forms and hefty doses of improvisation amid translucent harmonic evolvements, the band captures some of bandleader Sun Ra's off-kilter large digressions and spacey breakouts. And there's the jazz-fusion element, shaded with world-beat coatings and modulating background treatments.
The festivities commence with the three-part "Chains and Water A-B." Here, Lisala and Jeremiah provide the soul-drenched vocals atop soaring horns and climactic buildups as the underlying elements morph into avant-garde jazz and electronica passages. In this light, the music seamlessly converts into scorching improv statements featuring Vernon Reid's sizzling, sustain induced licks. Otherwise, many of these works are engineered upon multiple bassists, guitarists, and drummers, who engender the expansive and snappy pulses.
On the piece titled "Dominata," Greg Tate uses a laptop to execute a melodic motif that underscores the hornists and keys parts via a cyclical and atmospheric theme. Moreover, Tate streams synth-like EFX and spawns an ethereal and somewhat ominous tone within the grand scheme of matters. Then violinist Mazz Swift fuses an East Indian framework with streaming jazz phrasings atop an edgy ostinato, sparked by off-kilter backdrops and polytonal horns-based contrasts.
No doubt, it's a venture erected upon layered movements that are prominently enacted throughout the musicians' buoyant navigations. Ultimately, it's uncannily attainable and thoroughly entertaining when considering the near flawless blend of weighty compositional inferences in concert with the ever-present groove quotient. There's more than enough to sink your mind's eye into during this cunningly engineered outing.
Track listing: Chains and Water A, B, C; Thorazine/81; Love to Tical; Dominata (the gabri ballad); Making Love to the Dark Ages.
Personnel: Greg Tate: guitar, laptop, conduction; Lisala Beatty: vocals; Jeremiah: vocals; Lewis 'Flip' Barnes: trumpet; Satch Hoyt: flute, percussion; Matana Roberts: alto sax; Petre Radu Scafaru: tenor sax; Mikel Banks: harmonica; Rene Akan: guitar; Vijay Iyer: piano; Bruce Mack: synthesizer; Jason DiMatteo: acoustic bass; Shahzad Ismaily: efx bass; Jared Michael Nickerson: electric bass; Chris Eddleton: drums; Will Martina: cello; Michael Veal: soprano sax, slap electric bass; Micah Gaugh: alto sax; Avram Fefer: alto sax, bass clarinet; 'Moist' Paula Henderson: baritone sax; David Smith: trombone; Mikel Banks: freak-a-phone; Ben Tyree: guitar; Trevor Holder: drums; Abby Dobson: vocals; Karma Johnson: vocals; Latasha Natasha Nevada Diggs: elec. vocals; Vernon Reid: guitar; Swiss Chris: drums; W-Myles Reilly: piano; Justice Dilla X: vocals, piano; Derrin Maxwell: vocals; Mazz Swift: violin; Andrew Lassalle: guitar; Meret Koehler: drums.
Here's what the critics think about Making Love To The Dark Ages to date:
BlogCritics Online Magazine
Published March 15, 2009
Jazz and improvisation have gone together like bread and butter since the first player stepped out to blow a lead. There is something about the music that just lends itself to allowing musicians the freedom to explore all a piece of music has to offer. However, it's jazz's free-form nature which seems to have worked against its integration with orchestral works. Although modern composers have drawn upon many other elements of contemporary music and technologies, orchestral and jazz haven't seemed to be able to find the comfort zone where they can blend easily.
At least that's how Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris saw it, and what prompted him to develop his system of "playing" an ensemble called conduction. Conduction is a serious of gestures, including facial expression, that allow a conductor to generate notation for his performers on the fly based on factors like what the audience is feeling, who is playing in the band that night, the backgrounds of the musicians involved, (musically and otherwise), and of course whatever is needed to fulfill the emotional requirements of the music. There are hand gestures to change the rhythm, have sections repeated, have an instrument play in a higher or lower register, to silence, and to control volume. Needless to say, in order for a band to successfully carry off this type of performance, in which there are no written scores or arrangements, everybody involved has to be completely familiar with the vocabulary of gestures and be skilled enough a player to keep up with what are rapid fire changes.
This all sounds like it could be a recipe for disaster; a mishmash of sounds that end up being discordant at best and absolute hell at its worst. Yet when you listen to pieces like "Chains And Water, A, B, and C", they sound like they have been as carefully orchestrated as any piece of music with full notation and separate arrangements for each instrument. Each part, from the vocals to the electronic effects, sound and feel as if they were carefully rehearsed for days in advance. In fact, before I read any of the accompanying press package that came with the disc, I wouldn't have been able to tell from listening the extent to which improvisation was involved in the creation of any of the pieces.
Now part of that comes from the players all buying into the system and learning the vocabulary of gestures that Tate uses. However it also necessitates having musicians of some skill, ones who are able to do things like change direction on a dime without missing a beat or inverting the rhythmic pattern of a song without it turning chaotic and confusing. For those who are able to rise to this challenge, they are awarded with the gift of freedom like they've probably not experienced before in a large group format.
For instead of simply playing their part in the charts, they are able to explore their instrument's potential within the parameters allowed by which ever gesture has been employed by Tate at the time. Since those are everything from repeat that phrase again, to repeat that phrase but this time do it with a Latin beat, it's not what you could call limiting.
Now lest you think this is just unorganized chaos with everybody simply playing what they want, the music is developed along themes. So each track on Making Love To The Dark Ages builds from a consistent motif established prior to it being played. Therefore, the song always starts the same, where it ends up traveling to, on the other hand, is another story. What makes this music so intoxicating to listen to is the surprises awaiting the listener while accompanying the musicians on their journey.
The title track, "Making Love To The Dark Ages", is Tate's response to eight years of a Bush administration, which created a world in which selfishness, inequity, and cruelty were commonplace. While at times the song descends into a wild cacophony that reflects the turmoil and ugliness of those behaviours, it also carries within it the sound of resilience, the belief the world can and will recover from those years. Two instruments, or sounds, stood out in particular for me in this piece because of their contrasting influences on the overall tone; an improvised scat vocal line insisted on being heard in spite of everything else going on around it and the metallic sounds of electronic music which verged on being annoying because of its constant demands to be heard.
On the one hand there was the most human of all musical sounds, the human voice, and on the other, there was its antithesis, the sound of a machine, the voice of all that couldn't care less who was washed away or swept under in the course of events. Between these two polar opposites swirled the confusing sounds of other instruments that began to feel like the state of chaos formed by the pull both forces could exert on people. During the past eight years it has sometimes felt like we were being forced to choose between the inexorable pull of technology and compassion and caring, instead of finding a way for them to work in harmony, and this song managed to bring those feelings to life.
Perhaps this is what's truly most amazing about Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber's CD Making Love To The Dark Ages, the fact they are able to convey complex ideas and emotions through music in such a way the listener is able to relate to it on their own terms. You don't need to understand how they are making their to music to know it is powerful and amazing. However, it does make it all the more amazing when you do. Improvisation in music has come a long way from a horn player standing up an riffing a few bars around the theme of a song, and Burnt Sugar Arkestra Chamber are one of the most accomplished ensembles working in that field today.- Written by Richard Marcus
THE NEW YORK TIMES - Friday March 27th
(a preview for our NYC Blue Note performance)
* Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber (Friday) This deliriously cross-disciplinary ensemble has a new album, "Making Love To The Dark Ages" (LiveWired), that strikes a characteristic balance between visionary funk, spoken-word ruination and searching improvisation. (Nate Chinen)
Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber
Making Love To The Dark Ages
LIVEWIRED MUSIC 1002
Triangulating Afro-futurism and Butch Morris' conduction cue lexicon is a heady proposition on paper, but Burnt Sugar's ringleader Greg Tate's approach yields fluid, funk-fortified music. While there are moments that flash with antecedents-usually located somewhere in the mid- '70s, but reaching occasionally as far back as the '40s-Burnt Sugar has it's own sound. there's a cadre of horn players who cover the post-Ornette Coleman waterfront with ease ( including Matana Roberts and Avram Fefer ), rhythm sections who can lock into a groove but also suddenly pivot, and a sufficient array of textures ( some emanating from Tate's laptop ) and searing walk-ons by Vijay Iyer and Vernon Reid that morph the ensemble sound from track to track.
Burnt Sugar is at it's elastic best during extended work-outs like the second section of "Chains and Water," "Thorazine/81" and the title piece. However some of the album's high points occur in the more tightly scripted pieces like the first part of "Chains and Water," a throbbing, harmonica-laced holler featuring Lisala, a compelling singer. But there are also a few miscues in the more structured passages. In the boppish tag that concludes "Chains And Water," Lewis Barnes' trumpet is fractured by a psychedelic mix. A synthesized ostinato threatens to stifle the album-ending title piece, but violinist Mazz Swift prevails with a synthesis of Leroy Jenkins and Papa John Creach, making a lasting impression.
- Bill Shoemaker- April/2009 issue of DOWNBEAT
March 2009 issue of JazzTimes
Greg Tate’s Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber: Paint the Sky Red
By Bill Milkowski
In September of 1999, author, critic and Black Rock Coalition co-founder Greg Tate had the notion to form a new band that captured some of what he calls “the extreme kind of Stygian darkness and gnarly, Abyssinian, evil-sounding vibe and crusty, Jurassic, tectonic funk of Miles Davis’ Dark Magus and Agharta bands.” A volatile outfit comprised of three guitars with rhythm section, Burnt Sugar played its earliest gigs at alternative-rock emporiums like CBGB, featuring Tate wailing away on his ax with Pete Cosey-like abandon.
Evolving over time into a sprawling ensemble that took its cues from Sun Ra, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Parliament-Funkadelic, as well as Jimi Hendrix and electric Miles, Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber has now expanded to 15 to 20 musicians with a four-piece horn section and a full complement of vocalists. And auteur Tate has traded his guitar for a baton, following in the footsteps of “conduction” maestro Lawrence “Butch” Morris.
“I’ve been watching Butch do the conductions since the first one he did at [Manhattan arts space] the Kitchen back in 1985, which came out as a live recording, Current Trends in Racism in Modern America [Sound Aspects],” says Tate. “Of the hundreds of conductions that he’s done in New York, I’ve probably seen about 30 or more. So I’ve been a huge admirer of Butch’s work and his ability to just pull music out of musicians in the moment, to create symphonies in the moment.”
The epiphany that caused Tate to take up the baton came to him at a gig with Morris at the now-defunct Cooler in Manhattan’s meatpacking district. “It’s funny, because it wasn’t anything at the concert that made this indelible impression on me—it was what happened before the concert. I brought a big Peavey amp to the gig and took that heavy-ass thing down all those stairs with a guitar and bag of effects, got set up and came back upstairs for air. And as soon as I hit the street I look up and Butch is getting out of a cab, and he’s just got this little pool-cue case with his baton in it. And I was like, ‘Huh! Wouldn’t I love to do that!’”
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.).
Tate’s ensemble comprises such high-caliber players as keyboardist Vijay Iyer, bassist Jared Nickerson, trumpeter Lewis “Flip” Barnes, alto saxophonists Matana Roberts and Avram Fefer, baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson, guitarists Ben Tyree and Rene Akan and vocalists Lisala, Karma Johnson, Abby Dobson and Justice Dilla X. Special guest guitarist Vernon Reid explodes with ferocious metal-esque abandon on “Love to Tical.” Says Tate of the Living Colour founder, “Vernon’s like a damn Ferrari, man! He can start where most guitar players climax, and then he keeps on taking it out from there. In the midst of an improv piece you just call on Vernon and ... bam! He’s setting land speed records.”
Other special guests in this rotating cast of characters on Making Love to the Dark Ages include violinist Mazz Swift, trombonist David Smith and tenor saxophonist V. Jeffrey Smith. “Throughout the band there are definitely people who approach their instrument with more of an orchestral approach than a genre- or idiomatic-based approach,” says Tate. “I think they’re coming at it like painters and poets and scions of Bernard Herrmann or [Ennio] Morricone. People of different instruments in the band think of bringing those kinds of sensibilities. They’re colorists, really.”
While the band has recently taken to performing radically re-imagined covers of tunes by everyone from Hendrix and Chaka Khan to Grace Jones, Michael Jackson, Iggy Pop and Joni Mitchell, Tate’s spontaneous conduction and the ensemble’s adeptness at pure improv remain the ensemble’s focus. “It’s really great having cats that when you want them to just go crazy, just paint the sky red, and bam—they’re there. And then they can just pull it all the way in and interpret really classic pieces of material, too. You know, it’s kind of a real powerful piece of machine we’re driving.”
March 2009 issue of JazzTimes
Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber
Making Love to the Dark Ages
By Steve Greenlee
With a name like Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, Greg Tate’s latest project conjures up everything from funk, jazz and rock to the avant-garde world of Sun Ra and the hard-hitting hip-hop of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Yet when the band delves into the three-part album opener, “Chains and Water,” they first hit you with a blend of Delta blues and modern soul, propelled by the saucy vocals of Lisala. (How many different ways does she manage to intone and enunciate the phrase “I go back, I go back, I go back, I go back, I go back, I go back to chains and water”?)
Tate works with a huge array of musicians on Making Love to the Dark Ages, and he knows how to use them. Trumpeter Lewis “Flip” Barnes Jr. turns in a solo on “Chains and Water” that grows more and more discordant before the tune takes on a hip-hop bent that becomes an all-out jam in the long middle section—which, in turn, leads into a brief final section of Ellington-inspired swing. (Whew.)
More wildness ensues: The heavy romp of “Thorazine/81” teeters at the edge of chaos for much of its nine-and-a-half minutes, and an unusual cross of hip-hop and free-jazz-style soloing (from bass clarinet, no less) threatens to create a new species of music on “Love to Tical.” Then Tate goes further afield, using his laptop to create a rhythm of blips and beeps on the ballad “Dominata” and a backdrop of noises on the 18-minute title track. And what a tune: Mysterious, tense, and dramatic, it builds toward several highlights, including a fantastic solo from baritone saxophonist “Moist” Paula Henderson.