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Dave Brubeck Quartet and Bill Smith at the Earshot Jazz Festival

The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage seemed like the most unlikely place you’ll hear Burnt Sugar, an aggressive, electric Miles-inspired 13-piece ensemble led by journalist Greg Tate. But lo and behold, there Sugar was in all its theatrical glory in front of an attentive, enthusiastic sea of listeners that ranged from hipsters to Kennedy Center regulars who are so committed to the free-concert Millennium Stage that they will almost check out any performance regardless if they know anything about it.

One would think that the plush elongated hallway of space that makes up the Millennium Stage would work to Burnt Sugar’s sonic disadvantage. After all, this is a place originally designed for more acoustic-based, less-rambunctious combos, not ones comprised of twin powerhouse drummers along with high-octane guitars, bass, electric keyboards, dulcimer and other instruments. And given that the band’s two main influences are Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Lawrence Butch Morris’ “conduction” concept, the whole idea of Burnt Sugar at the Kennedy Center just seemed disastrous.

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