The Harlem Experiment
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. 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.
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.
"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 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."
"Harlem has had arguably the greatest 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, it's 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."