“I had come up with the idea of adapting motifs from ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’ for a series of improvisations,” says Burnt Sugar’s Greg Tate. “Given how many sick bass lines there are in his writing, Stravinsky makes perfect sense for a band that loves to vamp as much as we do.”
Stravinsky’s phat, yo, but this music is about more than just the bass. Tate, who’s also a writer for The Village Voice, says the band doffs their caps to Eddy Hazel, Sun Ra, Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis “for opening the gates and pushing us through.” Burnt Sugar has a flexible membership, and this particular recording is blessed with guitar legend Pete Cosey, whose looping, twisted lines added an anxious element to Miles Davis’ early and mid-’70s albums “Agharta,” “Pangea,” “Dark Magus” and “Get Up With It.” More recently, Cosey was featured on Akira Sakata’s intense “Fishermans.com.”
In addition to Cosey’s appearance, “The Rites” also finds bassist Melvin Gibbs sitting in. The rest of the sonic palette includes male and female voices, strings, horns and piano. Adding a slightly exotic element to the mix is the farfisa organ, an instrument Sun Ra used to play to render spacey atmospherics. Of course, an eclectic lineup such as this requires strong direction and, this time around, the whip comes from guest conductor Butch Morris. His style of conducting is not to lead a group through a written score, but to react to the ongoing group improvisation and pull what he feels are the right sounds and elements out of the musicians. His touch ranges from gentle string interludes that organically meld into fractured ambient washes to deep bass grooves and long guitar lines that produce soaring, sustained aches or disturbing subterranean agitations. The music is generally abstract, but there is an element of excitement as its form grows and the pieces sprout new limbs.
“The Rites” is Burnt Sugar’s fifth album since forming in 1999, and there are several more on the way. This month they’ll release a double set of original material titled “BloodyBlackSex Y’all Liberation & RandomViolets”; a Miles Davis tribute album in October; a “Rites” remix project; and what Tate describes as “a truly ‘black metal’ thing” in December as part of a 10-CD box set of all the band’s work to date. Collect ’em all, kids.
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