On Thursday night, part of a weirdly short stretch of work this week, I ventured out to Zebulon: a friendly Francophile boite on a fast-developing stretch of Williamsburg between Grand and Metropolitan Aves. I was there for a set by Burnt Sugar: an Afro-acid jazz orchestra led by Village Voice critic Greg Tate. Tate started the band back in '99, inspired by Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and Sun Ra's Arkestra, incorporating elements of rock, funk - even some bits of Reich and Glass.
The sizable band - which includes cello, violin, keys, four brass, three guitars, drums, percussion, and occasional vocals - doesn't appear to use charts. Instead, Tate leads the band using a method called "conduction", through which his improvisations mirror the vibe of the audience. The results were mixed: I heard as much blaring noise as clear, bright unisons. But, the sound seemed to improve as the night went on, with Tate throwing down some tight stops and soaring crescendos for effect.
They ended abruptly around 1230, just as it seemed they'd finally caught their groove. We shouted for more; they weren't having it. Gyp.