Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber Weave Through Improv Styles Via ‘Angels Over Oakanda’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Yes, the music is deep, sometimes soothing, sometimes strange, but intriguing. Yet the strangest thing is that the four song suite Angels Over Oakanda is an EP when it clocks in at nearly 40 minutes. It is Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber’s first new studio album of original material since 2017’s All You Zombies Dig The Luminosity. The opening 18-minute-long track, which gives the album its name, was recorded in Brooklyn with a full complement of the current gigging and touring Burnt Sugar instrumental band. The title refers to the Bay Area, a bastion of Black culture.

Nickerson’s bass is the sturdy underpinning of the infectious funk groove of the title track that features five horns, a fusion-like Rhodes solo mid-piece, and, like Miles Davis’ electric bands, a combination of guitars, keyboards, and percussion forming a swirling, psychedelic wall of sound. It is free-flowing until Tate speeds up the groove near the end. In one sense, it’s like those ‘70s vinyl free form jazz albums with only one track per side. It’s long but it draws the listener in, becoming trance-like so that the end arrives too soon. 

The second piece is a 12-minute Beat-and-Bass remix variation of the Oakanda suite entitled “Repatriation of the Midnight Moors,” produced, composed and arranged by guest Marque Gilmore, co-founder of the Black Rock Coaliton in the ‘80s and Gotham in the ‘90s. His father, Marvin Gilmore, owned the reggae-centric club The Western Front in Cambridge. Gilmore also achieved notoriety in London, through his association with Joe Zawinul, and gained Grammy nomination for his production work with Cuban pianist Omar Sosa. Here he uses his signature Acousti-Lectric drum arrangement infusions and the danceable piece features Hoyt’s flute and simmering electronic keyboards and synths.

V. Jeffrey Smith created the suite’s third movement, “Oakanda Overdrive” in his own studio. Once again Nickerson’s bass prowess is front and center in this effervescent mix of jazz fusion, horns, and tinkling Rhodes work from Gruenbaum. We end with an under three-minute collaboration between longtime vocalist Beatty and Tate, who wrote the lyrics, in “Lisala Over inna- Oakanda.” She sings over the first portion of Gilmore’s “Repatriation.” Subsequently, Gilmore adapted the instrumental arrangement to support Lisala’s vocal flow while also, and at Tate’s request, he created an alternate version with additional Drumz for the advance-release single. In his lyrics Tate pays homage to Black radical artists and activists but Lisala delivers the lyrics smoothly and melodically, devoid of any angst or defiance, self-described as “Afro-Angelical.”

More is on the way from Burnt Sugar The Arketstra Chamber in terms of remixes and vinyl offerings. Their adventurous music that may not instantly connect but sneakily the grooves become so enticing, that you’ll be hooked, certainly at least on the opener.

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