Harish Raghavan ‘Calls For Action’ 2LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

Since arriving to New York from Illinois by way of California in 2007, double bassist Harish Raghavan has recorded and toured with numerous artists including Ambrose Akinmusire, Kurt Elling, Taylor Eigsti, Vijay Iyer, Charles Lloyd, Walter Smith, Logan Richardson and Eric Harland. “Calls For Action” is his debut album as leader, and this impressive quintet recording is full of spark, vibrancy and originality. Over recent years Raghavan has seized the opportunity to work with an influx of bright new stars, resulting in this markedly lithe quintet with alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, pianist Micah Thomas, vibraphonist Joel Ross and drummer Kweku Sumbry.
“I had been wanting to record for quite some time when I met the guys through working on Joel Ross’ album”, explains Raghavan. “They had such a great rapport with each other and myself, it felt like a match. Then we had the luxury of playing together for a year to develop and build the repertoire.” There certainly seems to be a natural connection between all five musicians, with a shared collaborative spirit helping to make the bassist’s original compositions shine.

There’s an earthiness, a grounded feel to this recording that I really like. From the solo bass of the opening intro, it’s like a deep-rooted century-old tree taking sustenance from the earth, from the water and soil beneath, before waking to the world and stretching out its branches in a renewed spritely fashion. Like jazz itself, its history and traditions are still respected and totally genuine, but the new life that reaches out gives something new, something reinvented, with charisma, strength and purpose. “Newe” is just like that, showing the listener what this band have to offer, introducing us to who they are and what they’re about. There’s an almost impatient feel to this tune, as if the musicians themselves can’t wait to get up and at it, driving forward with a clear sense of purpose. If this tune feels a little over-eager, then the opposite can be said of the stunning “Los Angeles”. This is a wonderful piece of music. Unhurried, cool, beautiful and compelling. It reminds me a little of something you’d hear from Mark Guiliana’s Jazz Quartet. It took me a while to get to the rest of the album due to listening to this track so many times. The music is highly evocative throughout, with spellbinding melodies and intuitive soloing featuring heavily on tunes such as “Sangeet”, with its refreshing flair and uncompromising spirit. “I’ll go and I’ll come back” has an endearing simplicity to it that pulls the listener in, the piano and vibes picking up the melodies and running with them like long lost friends reunited. Raghavan’s driving bass leads us into the adventurous “Seaminer”, a breathless piece showcasing the quintet’s undoubted skill in all its glory. There’s some soloing of epic proportions here, especially from the dynamic Immanuel Wilkins. “The Meters” lets us relax a little, it’s subtleties and gentle nuances enriched by an underlying edginess that works its way into much of Raghavan’s music. “4560 Roundtop” is a playful, energetic piece that gives way to the quirkier “Shift”. This tune has that late-night jazz club vibe that benefits from searing bass lines and accomplished riffs and motifs, with the band taking no prisoners. I love the slightly uneasy feel of “Lunatico”, its dark, strangely compelling melody benefitting from a depth of soul and sincerity that the band pick up on as the tune develops. “Junior” allows drummer Kweku Sumbry to shine, but it’s the way the bass, drums, vibes and sax all combine so well that is especially impressive. The title track captures the imagination, its full-steam-ahead pace making the change mid-stream all the more impressive. Raghavan’s walking bass-line is greeted by some explosive drumming on “Seven”, before the ever-impressive piano of Micah Thomas and sax of Immanuel Wilkins take the centre stage. And as if we needed any extra icing on the cake, Joel Ross’s vibes hit the sweet spot once more. The album closes as it opened, with Raghavan’s endearingly woody bass walking us down a slowly winding path, taking in the surroundings with time once more to breathe.

“Calls For Action” is a strong, powerful debut from Raghavan. The quintet fully explore the bassist’s compositions with style, exuberance and panache. Original and daring, there’s so much promise from this quintet that one can only hope it’s not too long before they get back into the studio to build on what they’ve started.

Mike Gates