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Harlem Experiment Featuring Olu Dara, Don Byron, Taj Mahal, James Hunter & More

SOURCE: Published: 2007-07-12
Brooklyn, NY - It started in 2001 with a simple premise from the groundbreaking indie record label Ropeadope: take acclaimed musicians from a shared hometown, but with vastly different musical backgrounds, put them together in a recording studio and have them create spontaneous art inspired by that city's musical lineage. From this humble thought came Philadelphia Experiment and, hot on its heels, the underground classic Detroit Experiment. Now after four years of deliberation, Ropeadope has broken out its lab coats once again, heading back into the studio and emerging with yet another potent musical concoction - Harlem Experiment. Set for release in September 2007 and masterminded, like its predecessors, by Grammy Award-winning producer Aaron Luis Levinson and Ropeadope founder Andy Hurwitz, this time around they have assembled a genre-bending tribute to perhaps America's greatest cultural crown jewel: Harlem USA. The musicians taking part in Harlem Experiment are Carlos Alomar on guitar, Eddy Martinez on keyboards, Don Byron on clarinet, Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Ruben Rodriguez on bass and Steve Berrios on drums, plus special guest performances featuring Taj Mahal, Olu Dara, James Hunter, Queen Esther and Mums.

“We had a hard time picking the next city for our experiment," said Andy Hurwitz. “We had a long list and technically Harlem isn't even a city, but that's exactly what got us going. The history, the present and the future. We look to Harlem as ground zero for all that is modern day 'American' music whether you call it jazz, R&B, hip-hop or rock, all of it passed through the neighborhood's gates."

The original village of Harlem was established by Dutch settlers in 1658. 244 years later, it had become a haven for a burgeoning immigrant Jewish community and 50 years after that, it was home to an overwhelmingly African-American and Puerto Rican population. These tectonic shifts are essential to telling the full story of this remarkable neighborhood. Whether it was the Yiddish theatre at the dawn of the 20th century, the Harlem Renaissance of the '20s or the Puerto Rican social clubs of the '40s, the kaleidoscope of Harlem is one that defies easy categorization. From the Yiddish-flavored pop of the Andrews Sisters, the pioneering big band of Duke Ellington, all the way to the steamy mambos of Eddie Palmieri, Harlem was always the intersection of American sound. Thus, Harlem Experiment performs cultural archeology. The goal of this ambitious enterprise is to weave a sonic tapestry that stretches from the East River to the Hudson and runs from the Southern corner of Spanish Harlem to the distant Northern border of Washington Heights.

“The story of the neighborhood cannot be told in just one language," states producer Aaron Levinson. “In addition to Harlem's rich African-American history in jazz, R&B and funk, it's has deep Latin music roots with mambo and salsa, and this sits alongside a historic period in Jewish music, especially klezmer. It's an ambitious undertaking, but I think what makes Harlem Experiment so significant is that all of these cultural narratives are presented under one roof."

Unlike its predecessors, this Experiment is transmitted via an imaginary radio station personality, played here by actor/poet/spoken word artist Mums. He takes the listener on a musical journey from the teeming boulevards to the narrow back alleys and back again, daring the listener to remember a simpler time when the freshest sounds in music were discovered over the airwaves. Drawing on a dazzling array of artists versed in jazz, klezmer, funk, boogaloo and salsa, this mighty amalgamation is a sound experiment that quite literally has never been heard before. Not only does it draw songs and players conversant in each of these proud traditions, but it takes the whole idea one step further than expected and cross-pollinates the genres. “It's Just Begun" is a slice of steamy jazz-funk mashed-up against modern hip-hop scratching. The jazz standard “Reefer Man" from Cab Calloway is transformed into a smoking Cha-Cha. The Yiddish swing of the Andrews Sisters' classic “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" grooves on a crisp scratch guitar, while the sweet sounds of clarinet sing the melody. “Harlem River Drive" is underpinned by mambo rhythms with an “Across 110th Street"-influenced break that signifies the best of '70s uptown soul music. “A Rose In Spanish Harlem" maintains its Latin identity, but adds flourishes of early R&B and doo-wop that might have been sung on the front stoops of a Harlem brownstone or street corner.

The musicians tapped for the Harlem Experiment band had to be versed in the many styles that defined the historic neighborhood. Guitarist Carlos Alomar, while best known for his work with David Bowie (including a co-write on the smash hit “Fame"), was performing in Harlem's live music Mecca, The Apollo Theater, as part of the house band by the time he was 16. He later toured with James Brown among others. As a producer and musician, keyboardist Eddy Martinez has worked alongside some of Latin music's most legendary players ranging from Tito Puente to Ray Barretto. Growing up in East Harlem, bassist Ruben Rodriguez has been noted for revolutionizing the sound of contemporary popular salsa. As an in demand session player for over two decades, he's equally adept at electric, acoustic and Ampeg baby bass. Drummer Steve Berrios was a founding member of the highly influential Latin jazz group, The Fort Apache Band. Legendary drummers like Max Roach and Billy Higgins regarded Steve as the master of bridging the Latin and jazz traditions. In the house band's horn section, none other than clarinetist Don Byron holds court. Highly regarded as both a new music player and cultural historian, it's his mastery of klezmer and salsa music that made him the perfect choice for the project. Finally, none other than trumpeter Steven Bernstein rounds out the group. Bernstein, who leads his own groups Sex Mob and Millennial Territory Orchestra, is one of the most called upon trumpeters in the business. Here, in addition to his standout performance on trumpet, he takes on all of the arranging responsibilities

“Harlem has had arguably the great cultural impact of any neighborhood in America and certainly the industrial North. From James Brown's Live At The Apollo, Duke Ellington's association with The Cotton Club, Tito Puente emerging from El Barrio, its impact has been titanic," proclaims Aaron Levinson. “And now Harlem is in the middle of yet another renaissance, so the timing for this new album couldn't be better. It reflects a cultural maturation, a reminder of where Harlem's been and where it's going."

In the words of Mums: “No, this isn't the Harlem of the past, this is the Harlem of the fast arriving future. Marked by new attitudes and ways of thinking. For we don't have to remind ourselves of the struggles fought right outside our windows because we will never forget. The heart of Harlem is its creative spirit and the revitalization of that creative spirit is only just begun."

The Harlem Experiment House Band: Steve Bernstein - Trumpet & Arranger; Don Byron - Clarinet; Carlos Alomar - Guitar; Eddie Martinez - Keyboards; Ruben Rodriguez - Bass; Steve Berrios - Drums.

Invited Guests: Queen Esther - Vocals; Olu Dara - Vocals, Guitar, Pocket Trumpet; Taj Mahal - Vocals; James Hunter - Vocals, Guitar; Mums - Spoken Word; Larry Legend - Turntables; Noah Goldstein - Programming; Bill Sullivan - Additional Rhythm Programming.

Track Listing: Intro; One For Jackie; Rigor Mortis; Reefer Man (featuring Taj Mahal on vocals); Harlem River Drive (featuring Steven Bernstein on trumpet); Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (featuring Don Byron on clarinet); Mums Interlude; It's Just Begun (featuring Eddie Martinez on keyboards); Mambo A La Savoy (featuring Carlos Alomar on guitar); A Rose In Spanish Harlem (featuring James Hunter on vocals & guitar); One For Malcolm; 'Lil Bit (featuring DJ Mums on the mic); Think (featuring Queen Esther on vocals); A Rose In Spanish Harlem (Instrumental); Walking Through Harlem (featuring Olu Dara on vocals, guitar & pocket trumpet).


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