Sunday, November 18, 2007

Various Artists - The Harlem Experiment (Ropeadope, 2007)

The Harlem Experiment brings together diverse musicians from a number of genres to collaborate and experiment on a record dedicated to the music of a particular place. Jazz musicians like Don Byron and Steven Bernstein rub shoulders with Latin and hip-hop performers. Like its predecessors in the Philadelphia and Detroit Experiments, this album brings together hip-hop, jazz and a host of other musics in an unlikely, but mostly successful aural melange. The liner notes state that the disc wass designed as a sort of "musical archeology," a audio tour hosted by DJ Mums and this tour does highlight the musical history of this place from the perspective of a perceptive listener rather than that of a musical historian. The standard "There is a Rose in Spanish Harlem" is checked with James Hunter providing soulful vocals, then again near the end of the album as an instrumental, providing a touchstone for the musical direction of the album. Bluesman Taj Mahal sings a goofy but fun calypso/reggae take on Cab Calloway's "Reefer Man." A beautiful clarinet solo from Don Byron on "Bei Mist Bist Du Schoen" brings in the influence of klezmer that was part of the early 20th century Harlem landscape. Listening to this disc is like letting an old fashioned radio dial spin and come up with diverse music. As an aural journey through the history and musical diversity of a legendary neighborhood, this album works pretty well, and it could be enjoyed by open minded music fans.

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