How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
There are live albums where you just had to be there, and there are ones that take you there. This documentation of a 2001 Burnt Sugar performance is of the latter variety.
It's nice to see somebody putting their money where their mouth is. Cultural critic Greg Tate isn't content to just judge other peoples' art. In Burnt Sugar he conducts a fine group of musicians. But to call this Tate's project would be unfair to these excellent musicians; music like this, based on interplay, has to be the sum of its parts. The scribe helps move the music along via conduction (mentor Butch Morris' patented system of 26 baton and hand gestures for conducting improvisation), and it works well with nothing frenetic or jerky about any of the transitions. When the music gets to the point of full departure, it sounds almost classical.
Burnt Sugar's improvisations are mature, subtle, and restrained without being maudlin (as heard last month at Knitting Factory and Joe's Pub). They also throw down with head-bobbing, danceable jams. The players are all closely-enough attuned to each other that they could probably pull off just about anything. The lineup suits the music, too: a two-drummer, airy-synth scaffolding holds it all up while holding it down.
And then there are the various layers. Occasionally, one of the vocalists comes in with subtle growling and joyful scat singing. Matana Roberts and Petre Radu-Scafaru's tenor/alto sax interplay irrigates the amphibious "Half Moon Flippers. That tune's Hendrix-esque wah-wahing-fade-out horns and edgy, jagged ephedra funk resurface throughout the performance. Things soar on tracks like "Jungle Fibre, blooming into guitarist Rene Akan-driven "Jungle Fauvre, and settling into a hydrophonic dub descent on "Mazzafrique, all mostly straight improvisations that meld into one another but still stand on their own.
Close listening reveals new delights, but this is also music to put on and come back to.
Track Listing: Springtime for Chillun; Half Moon Flippers; Jungle Fibre; Jungle Fauvre; Mazzafrique; Jeremiah the Gallic; Held in Faith (feat. Lisala); All Fall Down (feat. JDX); Panpipes and Sprites; The Blood of Pomegranates; Resurrection Rag