Gene Harris (featuring Stanley Turrentine): The Battle Hymn of the Republic
The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Gene Harris (piano)
The Gene Harris Trio Plus One (Concord Jazz CCD-4303)
Composed by Julia Ward Howe.
Recorded: live at the Blue Note, New York, November-December 1985
Rating: 93/100 (learn more)
Julia Ward Howe wrote the most spirited and rousing of our "national" anthems. Her Civil War foot-lifter, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," quickly morphed from campfire song and derisive march (once "John Brown's Body") to warrior hymn, but the right hands or voice (Ray Charles or Aretha Franklin, for example) later could make it sound like a spiritual or gospel number ("Be swift my soul to answer him, be jubilant my feet"), most certainly when pummeled into believing submission, as in this live version. (The original LP left the titular "Plus One" unidentified for contractual reasons, but listeners quickly understood that the wailing sax belonged to Stanley Turrentine.)
Positioned at the end of a soulful, happily up-tempo album (check Gene's smiling face in the cover photo), this 8-minute romp syncopates and revitalizes the abolitionist lady's song. Harris starts the performance mysteriously, tune and direction hidden in a slow, bluesy feint, but then swiftly advances (willing volunteers Brown and Roker joining up) into a series of hard-charging, drive-the-keys choruses – Battle Hymn swing and gospel shout – that trample the grapes of wrath and set the stage for some tenor fire. "Mr. T" leaps in to blow several more rounds in staccato, prayer-meeting mode, till the united four move on out and then down in a braking, slowing, quieting fade that finally … halts, as the witnesses whoop and holler.
Maybe the best irony is that Howe's song is still often played at the close of Republican Party Conventions (which occasioned the Paul Desmond number called "Battle Hymn of the Republican"), and that Gene beats the naysayers simply by wielding his democratic piano.
Reviewer: Ed Leimbacher