Miles Davis and James Brown both influenced each other at different times in their careers, and continue to electrify the sensibilities of music fans. In channeling the creative energies of Davis, the “Godfather of jazz-rock fusion,” and Brown, the “Godfather of Soul,” audiences can expect an improvised orchestral arrangements of timeless tracks when the 13-piece ensemble, Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, performs.
Founded by bassist Jared Michael Nickerson and Village Voice icon/Arkestra conductor Greg “Ionman” Tate in 1999, Burnt Sugar is a sprawling band of musicians whose personnel exhibits expertise in the experimental soul-jazz-hip-hop spectrum. This accomplished group has playing credits that include Toshi Reagon, DJ Logic, Gary Lucas, TV On The Radio, Tamar Kali, Phish, William Parker, Liz Wright, The Holmes Brothers, Wadada Leo Smith, David Murray and Joseph Bowie.
Tate was a staff writer at The Village Voice from 1987 to 2003, and was recently acknowledged by The Source magazine as one of the “Godfathers of hip hop journalism” for his groundbreaking work on the genre’s social, political, economic and cultural implications in the period when most pundits considered it a fad. Next year Duke University Press will publish “Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader.” He recently completed “The 100 Best Hip-Hop Lyrics” for Penguin and is now working on a book about James Brown for Riverhead Press.
“I use to play in R&B and funk bands in high school, and I put the music down, really for a long time, as I got serious about my writing,” recalled Tate. “I went to Howard, got out of Howard, started writing for the Village Voice, did that for 20-something years. And then, about 1991, I got re-inspired to think about my music again ... I got serious about my guitar, song writing, band leading. Fast-forward to 1999, and I really wanted to put something together that was in the spirit of Miles’ ‘Bitches Brew,’ but with contemporary cats, and a lot of cats that I knew from the Black Rock Coalition. That was the nucleus, so we put together this situation we called, ‘Burnt Sugar and the Arkestra Chamber’ — with a little nod to the Sun Ra Arkestra and the Wu Tang Clan. It was always concieved to be a big band, but a big electronic-oriented band, like ‘Bitches Brew.’”
The Burnt Sugar manifesto reads in part that it “freely moves amongst many styles, eras and genres to devise its own exciting hybrids. These hybrids are based on a solid foundation of various musical traditions and the use of cutting-edge music technology. In this sense the group mission honors its deepest inspirations, the first post-modernists of American music — Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, Parliament Funkadelic and The Art Ensemble of Chicago.”
According to Tate, music must be heard — especially music designed to push back current musical boundaries. “People like this band because all of our cats are who other people hire to make them sound good,” said Tate. “This is an opportunity for them to play with their own peers and really stretch out. I see my job as to keep the music sounding conceptually interesting — and have fun with the music, too.”
The Painted Bride Center, located 230 Vine Street, presents Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber on Friday, September 28 at 8pm. General admission tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Members of Burnt Sugar arrive in Philadelphia a week early for an in-store performance and meet and greet at Jaz Sound on 11th Street between Market and Chestnut streets on Friday, September 21 at 5pm. For more information, call (215) 925-9914 or visit paintedbride.org.