The Harlem Experiment
A sideline project for the likes of clarinetist Don Byron, drummer Steve Berrios, keyboardist Eddie Martinez and guitarist Carlos Alomar, the ensemble billed as the Harlem House Band on this anthropologic study-cum-old-time-party-record produces a grand old racket of information and stomping tunes. Their aim is no less than the re-creation of the energy once tapped by everyone from Cab Calloway to now-forgotten klezmer bands, inherent in the union of Harlem the civic state and Harlem the mecca of esoteric, rhythmic-centric musical culture.
Programmed to suggest an imaginary uptown radio station, lovers of textural details will rejoice in how certain sound elements cut their way through the mix and immediately leave their mark on the brain. The ridiculously crisp accentuation of Berrios’ cymbals on “One For Jackie,” for instance, or Steve Bernstein’s trumpet interjections on the spoken-word/R&B balladry of “One For Malcolm,” with the great mobilizer himself intoning about movements in Harlem even he’s barely aware of—such is its breadth. Ruben Rodriguez’s walking bass patterns are crucial in knitting all of these disparate tracks together, including a rendition of “A Rose in Spanish Harlem” that could break the heart of the surliest gentrification tycoon. But it’s the beat that always wins out. “It’s Just Begun” isn’t that far off from the mad, tribal drumming versions of “Sympathy for the Devil” from Godard’s One Plus One Rolling Stones film, music to whom one pledges devotion, lest it run you over.