Burnt Sugar

For four hours, writer-musician Greg Tate and a dozen or so accomplices hunkered down into a Brooklyn recording studio to update the groundbreaking vibe that Miles Davis hit three decades ago with Bitches Brew and its successors.

They figured they’d have to reconvene: “Come back. Maybe do some loops; maybe come back again, build some solos.” Make the jams into a real record.

But Tate says he was blown away when he ran back the tapes: layer over layer of siren guitars, woozy bass lines, strings, upside-your-head percussion, spacey piano, vocals scatting into the dreamy funk. It was already there, basically ready to mix and release.

“You know it feels good while it’s happening,” he muses. “But you are barely aware of how much sense it’s making. … Nobody is more astounded than we are when we listen to the record — like wow.”

The record, Burnt Sugar’s self-titled release on Tate’s Trugroid label, is the electric, guitar-driven Miles of the ’70s, as reinterpreted by a generation that grew up on sounds from Parliament-Funkadelic to Led Zeppelin to hip hop and is comfortable with the notion of conducted improvisation. Through hand signals — some borrowed from the pioneering Butch Morris, some developed on his own — Tate guides the development of ideas as they bubble up among the passel of jammers; he poses musical problems, signals what to hold and play with, when to let go.

In the two years since the session, says Tate, the music’s gotten deeper, the group’s gotten bigger (though only 13 members will make the Midwest trek), vocals have become more prominent, and covers (from Michael Jackson to Jimi Hendrix) have entered the churning mix.

Now, with their first Midwest swing this weekend and a three-CD set due out soon, Tate and friends just need an audience to feast on the wild fruit of their groove grove.

See Burnt Sugar Saturday, July 14 at xhedos, 240 W. Nine Mile, Ferndale. Doors 8:30 p.m., show at 9 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. on the Main Stage at Chene Park in downtown Detroit (at Atwater and Chene, on the Detroit River). The official concert schedule can be found at www.concertofcolors.org.

Be sure to check out the rest of MT's special features in celebration of the Concert of Colors:

  • "Mixing the waters" — An introduction to the Concert of Colors (and some of the artists performing there), where exotic world sounds mingle and flow across boundaries and borders.
  • Amina — Defying categorization, this Tunisian Parisienne’s sensual and tender voice seems at ease floating between the worlds of drum and bass, jungle, Asian and traditional West African beats.
  • Cheb Mami — An Algerian native whose return to the desert breaks musical borders. Sting calls him “one of the greatest voices in world music today.”
  • Cibo Matto — Japanese-born master sound chefs who serve up an irresistible stew of funk, hip hop, hardcore, melody and fractured pop.
  • Lágbájá — A colorful, enigmatic post-Fela phenomenon, mixing elements of Afrobeat and drumming with Western pop twists.
  • Lo´ Jo — A French group that brings Europe and Africa together with the sweet strains of a seductive dance ... a musical trance.
  • Los Lobos — Quintessentially American, this long-lived East Los Angeles-based combo mixes rock, ranchera and more with an authenticity that can never be questioned.
  • Poncho Sanchez — This Latin-jazz bandleader extraordinaire keeps the Cal Tjader flame alive with his Afro-Cuban pulsations.

W. Kim Heron is Metro Times managing editor. Send comments to [email protected]

About The Author

Scroll to read more Local Music articles
Join the Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.