Burnt Sugar: Black Sex Yall Liberation & Bloody Random Violets

Burnt Sugar
Black Sex Yall Liberation
& Bloody Random Violets


Yes, you read that title right: Black Sex Yall Liberation & Bloody Random Violets, no comma, no apostrophe, no colon, no em-dash, yes ampersand, with blood and liberation and sex and violets all carrying equal weight--an indulgently engorged entity dropped on your plate in take-it-or-leave-it fashion. All of which makes it the perfect title for a double CD by this New York collective-not-band (the lineup fluctuates a lot), led by guitarist/conductor and Village Voice critic Greg Tate. Still, the title's operative word isn't one of the nouns, but an adjective: random.

That word applies partly because of the band's methods: Burnt Sugar makes music via "conduction," which is, as its founder Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris puts it on his website, "a vocabulary of ideographic signs and gestures activated to modify or construct a real-time musical arrangement or improvisation." (In layman's terms, that means the band makes stuff up, usually in what sounds like a loosely predetermined framework, while Tate directs them, conducting their improvisations.) In Burnt Sugar's hands, the results are not unlike the carefully plotted chaos of another confusing-to-outsiders musical system, Ornette Coleman's harmolodics: Each musician seems to be playing simultaneously in sync with the others and apart from them, strengthening the whole by pulling away from it.

Since Tate is a theorist by trade (he said in a 2001 interview that Burnt Sugar was an attempt to work within the framework of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew without imitating it), you'd be forgiven for expecting Black Sex Yall to feel bookish. Sometimes it does: "Driva Man/Freedom Day" perilously balances Tamar Kali's stentorian vocals against a drum 'n' bass breakdown and the heavy blowing of trumpeter Lewis Flip Barnes and alto saxophonist Micah Gaugh. And the method-played-and-sung "Fear" is a mess. But most of the time, even the far-flung stuff is easeful, like "Funky Rich Medina": There's some laptop fizz, and then, poof, Mazz Swift and Satch Hoyt tug their violin and flute toward the Middle East. DJ Mutamassik's turntable squiggles beam in from Planet Noise, vocalists Justice Dilla-X and Lisala Beatty scat from under the Village Vanguard's floorboards, and everything is held together by a loping, hypnotic groove. Then "No Direction Home" moves through seven individually indexed parts that range from soothing laptop glitch to regal chamber jazz to post-bop. It may be random, but it doesn't happen by accident.

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