On ‘In Tense,’ bassist Harish Raghavan unleashes a hypnotic, edgy thriller (ALBUM REVIEW)
New York composer and bassist Harish Raghavan follows his 2019 debut Calls to Action with this hypnotic and nervous all-original Intense, recorded at the end of 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The six tracks on the album were written especially for his group of most frequent collaborators, guitarist Charles Altura, Joel Ross on vibraphone and marimba, drummer Eric Harland and Morgan Guerin on woodwinds, each of them a conductor and among the contemporary elite. jazz musicians. You may be familiar with the bassist’s work as he has appeared on recordings and performing with these awesome artists – Ambrose Akinmusire, Kurt Elling, Taylor Eigsti, Vijay Iyer, Charles Lloyd, Walter Smith III, Logan Richardson and Eric Harland. He and Harland were the rhythmic tandem in Charles Lloyd’s moving set at Newport Jazz last year.
The instrumentation is a bit unusual, setting up some intriguing harmonics. The opening track “AMA” is ethereal and calm, befitting that hazy wandering of the mind that has characterized the pandemic state of staying at home. The leader breaks through with a driving bass solo over the throbbing mid-section groove. We know immediately that we are going to witness an intriguing, spatial and enriching listening. The energy builds with “Circus Music”, as Ross, Altura and Guerin play in unison before driving rhythms from Raghavan and Harland before hearing extended solos from Ross, followed by a vigorous exchange between Guerin in the tenor and Altura on guitar, illustrating the need to adapt to turbulent times. The music paints an image of walking a tightrope in a circus in search of a safe landing.
The title track moves slowly but with purpose, much like the opener, a fitting ode to the confusion of locked-down feeling. While the notes of Ross and Guerin seem rather suspended, the bass of the leader and the insistent beats of Harland seem to be the only instruments to convey movement. As it unfolds, Ross and Altura become more engaged, pouring out smooth notes to build drama until it reverts to slow motion, opening up themes as it releases. “Eight-Thirteen” also carries its share of mystery. The name of the track comes from the moment exactly one minute before the birth of Raghavan’s son. Altura and Ross first build a series of notes, similar to a giant staircase, before the vibraphonist steps in with shimmering patterns, accentuated by Harland’s sly work on the kit. Altura and Raghavan have a heated exchange before the composition temptingly slows down for a moment, signaling the precise moment before everything changes.
“S2020” continues the heady space journey, first featuring Altura as Ross goes into comp mode. Altura then engages in a guitar synth swap with Guerin on what he presumably calls the electric wind instrument, the two so closely intertwined that it becomes difficult to tell the sounds apart. Meanwhile, Harland and Raghavan stir up a whirlwind of activity which Ross demolishes with his mallet attack. The closer “Prayer” plays at a faster pace than expected, not to suggest he’s wobbling. (this is not the subject of this unit in this release). The composition once again features a moving dialogue between Altura and Guerin (still in electric mode), a growling drum-bass sequence and delicate start-stop rhythmic patterns. Ross finally joins the fray and for a few minutes all hell breaks loose as Raghavan had planned as he says, “There’s a part where it gets a little free and a little soft, and then it’s like you’re at war for a while.” It was written as a prayer before going into battle.
True to its title, the album, hypnotic in places, is ultimately dramatic. This title can also be taken in another way. In fact, for Raghavan, it means trying to stay present and in the moment. Either way, it’s gripping and full of unpredictable turns.