Various Artists: The Harlem Experiment

Filmore Mescalito Holmes

The third in a series of experiments, Ropeadope's gaze into Harlem gets the jazz-fusion job done, then leaves work five minutes early.

The Harlem Experiment

The Harlem Experiment

Label: Ropeadope
US Release Date: 2007-10-30
UK Release Date: Available as import

Curated by Ropeadope founder Andy Hurwitz and Grammy-winning producer Aaron "Ace" Levinson, this third experiment in a series is like Live Aid for underappreciated American music hotspots. Their goal from the beginning was to gather musicians from all walks of life but a common hometown and lock them in a room full of ganja and the finest recording equipment. Then they'd wait 'til an album came out, something that speaks all languages and prefers none, something that captures the unadulterated spirit of their city… or until all the kush was blazed and the musicians floated out the window. Experiments have risks, you know.

Andy and Ace first asserted their efforts in 2001 to shed lights on the City Of Brotherly Love. There, ?uestlove invited Christian McBride, Uri Caine, and a few friends over for some extended funk jams. 2003 was the Motor City's turn, providing a fine fusion of Detroit's techno and hip-hop scenes with Carl Craig and Karriem Riggins filtering a who's who of soul and jazz legends to their ends. That must have satisfied the Ropeadope itch for a while, 'cause it's been four years between installments. If you enjoyed the first two, the wait was more than worth it.

Some things are a little different this time around. Instead of pooling the culture of an entire metropolis into a workable jam band aesthetic, the Harlem Experiment (obviously) focuses on one of the most storied neighborhoods in America's greatest city. Furthermore, the line-up for the Harlem house band is more solid than ever before, featuring former David Bowie guitarist Carlos Alomar, Latin jazz drummer Steve Berrios, Tito Puente bassist Rubin Rodriguez, trumpeter Steve Bernstein (who also took over the arranging duties), and everyman keyboardist Eddie Martinez. Of course, anyone with the right address and spare time was free to stop by.

Also unlike the previous projects, the Harlem Experiment is a hosted event. Local DJ Mums does the job well, under the loose guise that the album exists in the world of a mocking bird perched by a kitchen window for 100 years. Mums' nostalgic musings and spoken word paints a humanistic narrative of growing up and learning how to live in a majestic hood that spills over with righteous history. Pairing that with the comfortable house band results in this album clearly being the most cohesive and coherent work the series has yet to produce.

The Harlem rendition of "Rigor Mortis" is funkier than a bag of gym socks and more silky rich than Cameo could have made it with a decade of fine-tuning. Cab Calloway's immortal "Reefer Man" is here presented with a Latin cha-cha swing under bluesman Taj Mahal, who suits the context perfectly with his raspy, gravely voice aptly emoting the mania necessary to pull it off. "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen", originally an Andrews Sisters minor hit, adds a little Yiddish vibe to the swinging jazz affair as props to one of Harlem's biggest demographics, while hip-hop and light electronica are represented elsewhere. And yet, no matter how far out there those tracks may be, this experiment sounds as unified and harmonious as a Dap-Kings record. Even the original contributions -- the grimy rap based "One For Jackie" by the well-used DJ Arkive and the freestyle jazz exhibition "One For Malcolm" by the house band -- slide into the tracklisting seamlessly, which is quite a feat in its own right considering the breadth and quality of their cover choices. Only the James Hunter street corner treatment of "A Rose in Spanish Harlem" really sticks out aurally, and even then it merely acts as a happy-go-lucky island in the jazz bomb lake that surrounds it.

That being said, there isn't much on this album that really achieves the kind of groundbreaking immortal status of the original artists they cover. While the album is totally solid, if you didn't know the story behind the Harlem Experiment, it wouldn't likely impress you. The sum of the parts remains greater than the whole. They need to go a little further if they want to create something really worth remembering.


If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.