Cooking With Mojo

From the Playboy Blog, 1/23/08

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This past Friday and Saturday Burnt Sugar, The Arkestra Chamber fired up The Kitchen, a non-profit experimental art space in Chelsea, with a performance of their most recent work, “More Than Human: The Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion.” The band is the baby of composer/conductor/guitarist/philosopher Greg Tate. He originally conceived the group as an updated version of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew ensemble, and since its founding Burnt Sugar has had some resemblance to Miles’s crew. It mixes electric and acoustic instruments and draw inspiration from countless genres—jazz, hip hop, R&B, psychedelic rock, even some grunge. Its instrumentation and personnel change constantly, much like Miles’s electric bands.

But “Mojosexual Cotillion” diverged from the Miles Davis feel in many ways. The most obvious was the predominance of R&B vocals. Singing duties were shared by six different singers, all with incredible range and power (on one occasion Lisala Beatty belted so intensely that she blew her music off the stand). The band’s sound was structured clearly around funky bass lines, Hendrix-style guitar chords, and steady drum rhythms. This made it feel less cerebral and more booty-shaking than electric Miles. Sure, “Mojosexual Cotillion” had its share of dissonance and counter-rhythmic improvisation, but it still felt like music anyone could dance to.

Add the emotional nods to New Orleans jazz and to late drummer Max Roach, whose song “Driva Man” found its way into the finale, and the audience was hooked. You could tell from the bobbing heads and wagging feet that they’d rather have been on a dance floor than in their cushioned seats. And the composition of the crowd mirrored that of the band—a mix of young and old, black and white. Greg Tate has made cross-genre, experimental music accessible in a way that Miles never quite did. Listening to the CD won’t do justice to the live spectacle, but I recommend picking it up and letting your imagination do the rest.

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