(7 out of 10)
It takes a little while for Making Love to the Dark Ages to get its improv groove going, but by the time the slow-burn introductory ten minutes of the 25-minute “Chains and Water” have morphed from atmospheric soul vocals and into fiery squeals of guitar, keyboards and brass, that groove is impressive indeed. Greg Tate has been a fixture on New York’s downtown music scene for years, straddling the multiple conjunctions of modern jazz, postmodern hip-hop discourses and the aims of the Black Rock Coalition, but it’s in his role as the leader of Burnt Sugar – conductor, if you will – that he most elegantly fuses those varied elements.
Employing the “conduction” techniques laid down by jazz icon Butch Morris, Tate leads this group through pieces that are bristling with electricity and densely massed improvisational flair, somewhere between jazz, blues, avant-garde classical music and straight-up electric funk. That group, made up of some of New York’s most impressive players (pianist Vijay Iyer, baritone sax player Paula Henderson, guitarist Vernon Reid and more than a dozen others) comes at the listener with all the force of an orchestra or a big band, an instantly crafted wall of sound composed of scores of intricate details.
The overall effect is an album that is as modern as it is evocative of the historical tapestries Tate intends to evoke with pieces like the expansive opener, the Wu-Tang-meets-Sun-Ra freedom of “Love to Tical” or the dizzying electricity of the title track.
Standout Tracks: “Chains and Water,” “Love to Tical”