Prior to making his debut as a bandleader in 2019, New York jazz bassist Harish Raghavan amassed an impressive résumé, gigging with a wide range of players and recording high-profile projects with artists like trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonist Walter Smith III, and drummer Eric Harland. The latter of those three joins Raghavan's band on In Tense, his marvelous second solo outing for the Whirlwind label. Aside from returning vibraphonist Joel Ross, this is an entirely different quintet than the one employed on Calls for Action with guitarist Charles Altura and reeds player Morgan Guerin joining Harland to round out the bassist's new five-piece. Reflecting the tone of the period during which it was made (late 2020), In Tense is an altogether heavier record, with a reassuring earthbound heft and a number of sturdy low motifs that anchor its floor plan. Opener "AMA" is a perfect example of this with a slow and deliberate groove that rolls like a dark, frothing river through a lush valley while Guerin and Ross spray an ethereal mist high above it. It's the musical equivalent of a weighted blanket, both cool and calming. The title track, though quicker on its feet, occupies a similar territory, suggesting cosmic chaos and drama unfolding nearby while feeling somehow protective and shielding. That Raghavan and his bandmates were able to create such reflexively therapeutic and imaginative music during the overwhelming tumult of 2020's final months is a testament to the power of collaboration and to jazz as an art form. It was a period of global separateness and fear to the extent that, when these five souls came together in a room, a palpable sense of both relief and heightened intensity spilled into the proceedings. As they shift into gear on the more frenetic passages of "Circus" and "S2020" before coming to a dizzying crescendo on "Prayer," the band sounds both fluid and resolutely focused on the moment, like tomorrow may never come. Fortunately, it did.
In Tense Review
by Timothy Monger