The Harlem Experiment: The Harlem Experiment

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By: Nathan Rodriguez

After three listens, I remain vaguely attracted to the idea of a one-word review: “Meh.” Nothing’s wrong with any particular track, but taken as a whole the album flirts with the snooze button. The Harlem Experiment (Ropeadope) is predominantly jazz-rock instrumentals, save for a few rapid-fire scat vocals, some random rhapsodizing about Harlem and a couple of traditional tunes. And while the spoken word bits were certainly intended to bridge it all together, it comes off as an unfocused afterthought.

However, there are some highlights. “It’s Just Begun” offers the most inspired, driven effort by the group while guitarist James Hunter excels in the Phil Spector-penned “A Rose in Spanish Harlem.” “Reefer Man,” a light ditty, aided by Taj Mahal‘s gravelly vocals, infuses big band swing with Caribbean-tinged rhythms. Finally, Bobbi Humphrey’s soul-jazz standard “Harlem River Drive” plays like a distant echo, with Steve Bernstein‘s (Sex Mob) trumpet acting as the siren call that keeps things together.

But, the effort is uneven. About half the tracks feature a sizable backbeat and thick groove but somewhat lackadaisical jamming. To some, this may be an outstanding exploration of minimalism, but the album becomes intriguing without being convincing. Indeed, it might make more sense as a b-sides and outtakes disc from a defunct all-star group rather than a first effort. This is exactly the type of band that likely excels in a live setting but has trouble translating that experience to the studio.

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