Burnt Sugar | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Burnt Sugar 

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BURNT SUGAR

New York critic Greg Tate was a key figure in the formation of the Black Rock Coalition, which helped organize and give voice to musicians exploring the nexus of rock, jazz, funk, and hip-hop. Its most famous product is still Vernon Reid's Living Colour, but many other combos have emerged from the organization, including a few that Tate played guitar in, like Women in Love and Mack Diva. But Tate is also the author of Flyboy in the Buttermilk, a sly, insightful 1993 essay collection that includes his investigations of Miles Davis's early-70s electric work, which helped launch the ongoing reassessment of that phase in Miles's career. Not surprisingly the music of Burnt Sugar, the mini-orchestra he conducts in improvisations a la Lawrence "Butch" Morris, is heavily influenced by psychedelic classics like Pangaea, Dark Magus, and Agharta. The group's recent debut album, Blood on the Leaf, Opus No. 1 (Trugroid), is filled with expansive, textured guitar-driven jams that contemporize the fluid structures of those old Miles recordings with everything from the prog precision of King Crimson to the skittering rhythms of drum 'n' bass. Funky, elastic grooves laid down by a massive rhythm section of two bassists, two drummers, and a percussionist support sumptuous layers of the three guitarists' interlocking riffs, harmonically open piano, and mournful strings. The composed elements usually aren't much more than a seductive vamp and a concise melody, but Burnt Sugar gets plenty of mileage out of these kernels. It's not as rhythmically ferocious as the Davis stuff, unfolding at a delicious crawl, and most of the tunes are wave-shaped, sweeping in gradually and receding the same way. It remains to be seen whether the group can make the material fresh live; hopefully this gorgeous recording is merely a page torn from a work in progress. The live lineup includes two guitarists, two bassists, two percussionists, two vocalists, a cellist, a trumpeter, a keyboardist, and an electric dulcimer player. Friday, July 13, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

PETER MARGASAK

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