145

Various Artists: The Harlem Experiment

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
On the face of it, The Harlem Experiment sounds like a winner. A multi-generational, multi-cultural cast of A list players—including singer Taj Mahal, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, reed player Don Byron, drummer Steve Berrios and bassist Ruben Rodriguez—revisiting a dozen or so soul, funk, Latin, jazz and pop cuts with heavy New York associations, and with the project produced by Aaron Levinson for the hip Ropeadope label. The idea, a good one, was to mix up musicians and genres, in true New York "melting pot" style, and give each of the tracks a new spin while staying in touch with its original spirit.



It reads like cross-pollination heaven. But expectations are not fulfilled. With only a few exceptions—DJ Arkive's sweating updates of two "Planet Rock"-era block party classics, Cameo's "Rigor Mortis" and the Jimmy Castor Bunch's "It's Just Begun," and Don Byron's funky klezmer take on "Bei Mist Bist Du Schoen"—the promised fireworks don't happen.



With their vocal parts stripped out, as they mostly are, and all too few adventurous instrumental collisions replacing them, many of the tunes sound like immaculately played backing tracks waiting for the main event, reducing a line-up of innovative players to the status of anonymous session men.



Occasionally, neon-lit opportunities are lost. Taj Mahal's reading of "Reefer Man" sounds tame, even (and this is a capital offense) equivocal, alongside Claude Jones' 1932 version with the Don Redman orchestra. Steven Bernstein fronted three primo reefer madness hommages on saxophonist Max Nagl's Big Four Live (Hat Hut, 2007), but, inexplicably, doesn't get to do so here.



"One For Malcolm," ostensibly a tribute to Malcolm X, is actually pretty offensive. Why choose to represent Malcolm X with excerpts from a speech he made while still in thrall to Elijah Muhammad and ignore the later, more visionary ones he made after he severed links with the man? The historical record is badly skewed. Check the early-1980s Tommy Boy 12-inch "By Any Means Necessary" for the real deal.



That track aside, The Harlem Experiment isn't a disaster, but it is, undeniably, a whole lot less than the sum of its parts.


Track Listing: Intro; One For Jackie; Rigor Mortis; Reefer Man; Harlem River Drive; Bei Mir Bist Do Schon; mumMs' Interlude; It's Just Begun; Mambo A La Savoy; A Rose In Spanish Harlem; One For Malcolm; Lil' Bit; Think; A Rose In Spanish Harlem; Walking Through Harlem.

Personnel: Various line-ups including: Carlos Alomar: guitars; Ruben Rodriguez: bass; Steve Berrios: drums and percussion; Don Byron: clarinet and tenor saxophone; Steven Bernstein: trumpet; Queen Esther: vocals; Taj Mahal: vocals; James Hunter: vocals and guitar; Olu Dara: guitar and vocals; DK Arkive: cuts and bruises.

Title: The Harlem Experiment | Year Released: 2007


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read ON Tour CD/LP/Track Review ON Tour
by John Kelman
Published: October 22, 2017
Read On a Distant Shore CD/LP/Track Review On a Distant Shore
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: October 22, 2017
Read Friends & Heroes: Guitar Duets CD/LP/Track Review Friends & Heroes: Guitar Duets
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 22, 2017
Read Signal 9 CD/LP/Track Review Signal 9
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 22, 2017
Read For the Love of You CD/LP/Track Review For the Love of You
by Jack Bowers
Published: October 21, 2017
Read Recent Developments CD/LP/Track Review Recent Developments
by John Sharpe
Published: October 21, 2017
Read "Through The Hours" CD/LP/Track Review Through The Hours
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: May 12, 2017
Read "Day By Day" CD/LP/Track Review Day By Day
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: January 16, 2017
Read "Radio Luboyna" CD/LP/Track Review Radio Luboyna
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: April 9, 2017
Read "Any Other Way" CD/LP/Track Review Any Other Way
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: October 16, 2017
Read "BACHanalia" CD/LP/Track Review BACHanalia
by Jerome Wilson
Published: July 25, 2017
Read "Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues" CD/LP/Track Review Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play...
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 18, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.