More Than Posthuman

burntsugar5.jpgTitle: More Than Posthuman: Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion
Artists: Burnt Sugar: The Arkestra Chamber
Label: Trugroid
Catalog No.: N/A (2 CD set)
Date: [2006]

I once got stuck on a subway train that was crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. It was Manhattan bound. It was post 9/11. It was late on a Saturday night and the train was packed. A typical New York City subway packed with people of different color, different ideas, different beliefs, different backgrounds, different wallet sizes, and different destinations. For a moment we all came together and spoke about the new conductor named Fear that was driving our streets and subways. We all expressed joy when two hours later the train started moving again. This experience is encapsulated in Burnt Sugar:  the Arkestra Chamber, one of the groups that share the shade of the Black Rock Coalition umbrella. This music is generated not only by the improvisational spirit of many voices coming together from all genres, but by the Butch Morris Conduction System for orchestral improvisation. The product of this system is sheer funk, rock, hip-hop, and jazz bliss to say the least. It is what might happen if Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, Sun Ra, George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars, Ella, Nina Simone, and Bob Marley were all stuck on that Manhattan bound subway train, talking to each other with the language of music. 

Burnt Sugar is a freeform, improvisational ensemble lead by Greg Tate, co-founder (with Vernon Reid) of the Black Rock Coalition, and a noted journalist and musician. The group is composed of a loosely based collective of up to 30 people: horns, strings, guitars, singers, rappers, etc. They consider themselves “the world’s second fully improvisational acid-funk band.” The name Arkestra Chamber references the WuTang Clan (36 chambers of Shaolin) and Sun Ra (Arkestra) and the music is influenced by both groups, along with Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew and Butch Morris. How does this musical collective operate? The Butch Morris system of conduction is a way to conduct improvised music in the way a classical conductor might do it. The music might include completely rehearsed sets and completely improvised sets. The group has the latitude to literally cut and paste the music-having the freedom to compose, arrange, orchestrate, and improvise the music on the spot. The band often doesn’t know what is coming next, which keeps everything fresh for the audience. Burnt Sugar’s More Than Posthuman: Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion is their latest CD set and they make every note count.

The track “Kungfucious” expresses the diversity this group brings to the listener. It starts out with a Billie Holiday-esque jazz-scat introduction by Lisala and rolls into an extended rap interpretation by Demax. Clearly in the present musically and politically, “The Ballad of Fema, Katrina, and Satchmo” is a musical tribute to New Orleans and the natural disaster that has fallen on that city. It features an inspired and soulful ensemble of tuba, vocals, guitar, saxophone, bass and drums. The rock, reggae, and hip hop inspired song “Gentrification” continues the social, political, and genre blending on the second disc.  This CD is not only a political and musical statement but it makes you question why musical boundaries exist in the first place and inspires you to help break down those boundaries. 

This is a record the way they used to make records, as in a record of an event, and the event of people playing music in a room. In an over-commercialized, over-produced, and over-classified music market, More Than Posthuman represents some fresh air in the world of music. If Jimi, Miles, Coltrane, Sly and the Family Stone, Prince, Nina Simone and Duke were stuck on a Manhattan bound train together,  I believe they would proudly be talking abut this latest offering from Burnt Sugar.  To find out more, check them out here and here. 

Posted by Christopher Mulé                                                               

Editor’s note: Burnt Sugar recently performed a concert at Lincoln Center commemorating the 20th anniversary concert of the Black Rock Coalistion. Check out this interview with Tate which includes a discussion of the performance.