Joel Harrison: Anthem Of Unity

Guitarist leads a set of funk, swing and ballad featuring tenor, flute and Hammond organ, all propelled by the drums of Jack DeJohnette


The opener, the appropriately anthemic title track, sports a majestic feel, with Joel Harrison sketching the main melody in a high register over Gary Versace’s Hammond B-3. The multiple themes drawn into the number make for a memorable and deceptively complex piece. Harrison wrote it the day before the session as a paean to his guitar tutor, the late Mick Goodrick.

A surprising cover of Bob Dylan’s famous protest song The Times They Are A-Changin’ is given a mournful, almost dirge-like treatment. The danger when covering popular songs is the possibility that they can become schmaltzy or ersatz. Neither of these criticisms can be levelled here especially when Harrison departs from the main tune to deliver a tasteful solo.

The only other non-original on the album is Sonny Rollins’ Doxy. After a teasing opening, the main theme is evinced by guitar and sax. As with the Dylan tune, Doxy is rendered with a decidedly laid-back feel which paradoxically makes for a refreshing change.

On the brisk-paced Today Is Tomorrow’s Yesterday, Jack DeJohnette’s crackling drums are prominent and even more so when he’s heard introducing Parvati with an attention-grabbing solo. DeJohnette inimitably powers all the numbers and encourages the three others to turn-in some equally engaging solos. On Migratory Birds, Harrison is heard at his lyrical best, his flowing single-line notes characterising the tune. By contrast Mohawk Valley Peace Dance is imbued with a funky charm and overlaid by Harrison’s wah-wah guitar and some catchy tenor from Gregory Tardy.

This is Harrison’s 25th album to date but strangely it’s the first time he’s deployed organ in a recording. He regards the recruitment of DeJohnette on drums as a “bucket list” moment of fulfilment. In 2010, the same year he was appointed a Guggenheim Fellow, Harrison founded the Alternative Guitar Summit (AGS), a now prestigious affair that attracts a host of star players. Harrison describes Anthem Of Unity as a “blowing session” but it’s considerably more than that.

Anthem Of Unity; Survival Instinct; The Times They Are A-Changin’; Today Is Tomorrow’s Yesterday; Doxy; Migratory Birds; Parvati; Mohawk Valley Peace Dance (50.24)
Harrison (elg); Greg Tardy (ts, f); Gary Versace (org, p); Jack DeJohnette (d). Woodstock, NY, 21 November, 2022.
HighNote HCD 7348