By J Hunter
Burnt Sugar’s website lists Greg Tate’s duties as “Conduction, Guitar, Bass Guitar, Laptop.” But if you get into his bio, you’re going to have to read a bit before you find anything about any music he himself created.
Long before Burnt Sugar came into being, Tate was a staff writer for The Village Voice, and his words have also appeared in everything from The Washington Post and The New York Times to Rolling Stone and JazzTimes. The Source named Tate one of the “Godfathers of Hiphop journalism,” and the list of people he’s interviewed makes envy gush out my ears in big green globs.
These days, though, he’s at the nerve center of Burnt Sugar (at Proctors in Schenectady at 7:30pm on Saturday), one of the most interesting bands to cross my path in many a year, and he was good enough to take time to talk about it with me:
Q: The full name of the band is “Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber.” Is that last bit merely a play on “chamber orchestra,” or were you giving a shout-out to the late, great Sun Ra’s Arkestra?
A: Both answers are right, although there’s also a shout out there to the Wu-Tang Clan’s “36 Chambers.”
Q: The group was put together in 1999 as “a forum for the New York improvisational musician.” What was happening in the New York scene at that time that inspired the creation of the group?
A: We felt a need for a situation where contemporary improvisers from various schools and styles could freely practice musical alchemy without being restricted by genre or a set repertoire and let the music unfold in a real stream-of-consciousness way. Since our stream included a Conductor, there was also a bit of multiple brain surgery going on that used a baton instead of a scalpel.
Q: One phrase associated with Burnt Sugar is “conducted improvisation.” It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but Adam Rudolph also did some of that on his last Moving Pictures disc, “Both/And.” How does the term apply to Burnt Sugar? Is it direction of tone and/or intensity, or (given the size of the group) is just down to traffic control?