Album review

Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber – ‘Angels Over Oakanda’

Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber – Angels Over Oakanda

(Avant Groidd Musica. Album review by Adam Sieff)

Burnt Sugar is a New York based improv unit currently comprising over two dozen members that was first established in 1999 by Greg Tate, the Village Voice writer and co-founder of the Black Rock Coalition. It was described by David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine as ‘a neo-tribal thang, aspiring to the condition of all that is molten, glacial, spacial, telepathic. 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.’

But with that in mind, these conducted improvisations, reworked jams, mixes and remixes work well as individual tracks, and although they were recorded in a number of different professional and home studio locations as well as recorded and mixed by different personnel, they combine effectively to make this a positive experience for both mind and body.

This is the first Burnt Sugar album for four years, and the Oakanda of the title refers to the city of Oakland, a centre of Black Culture just across the bay from San Francisco. The opening 18 minute title track is built around Tate’s uptempo groove loop while he conducted the live improvisational performances by a room full of musicians including two guitar players, three saxophonists, keyboardist, bassist, drummer and percussionists. At a later date tenor and soprano saxophone and flute were added in home studios. The intricate final mix captures the exciting and swirling interplay of instruments over a solid groove. Miles’ influence is huge, and this feels very much like a taste of the early 70s, but in a positive way.

Guest drummer and producer Marque Gilmore tha’ Inna-Most plays an important role on Repatriation of the Midnight Moors which is built over a tumbling bass hook by Jared Michael Nickerson and flutes and loops from Satch Hoyt. This is an atmospheric and infectious slice of d’n’b that feels much closer in spirit to On The Corner than Chase & Status.

There are two versions of Lisala Beatty’s collaboration with Gilmore and Tate entitled Lisala Over inna Oakanda and inna Lisala Over Oakanda. Beatty sings with conviction and brings strong melodies and harmonies to Tate’s powerful lyrics which pay homage ‘to the ghost-lineage of American born Black radical artists and activists’.

The final track Oakanda Overdrive again owes much to the bass of Nickerson, as well as the composition and tenor saxophone of V. Jeffrey Smith and the Fender Rhodes of Leon Gruenbaum. With more remixes planned and a vinyl album release for next year, this project should be around for some while. It will find plenty of admirers too, its roots are strong, its message is powerful and its groove is deep.

Release date is 23 September 2021

Adam Sieff is host of Jazz on the Beach on Deal Radio

LINK: Burnt Sugar website

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