Damani Rhodes ‘R.E.A.C.H’ (Self-released) 5/5

‘R.E.A.C.H’ marks the debut solo recording from pianist and composer, Damani Rhodes, from Sacramento, California. The release of this project could well be argued to be long overdue. Drawn to music from a young age, Rhodes’ passion saw him gravitate to different instruments in his youth from drums to guitar, before really finding himself at home with the piano.

Recent years have really seen Rhodes’ musical efforts gain increased notoriety as his work amongst varying projects have garnered steady acclaim and resulted in some fantastic projects: there’s the eclectic and fusion-inspired musical collective known as Mino Yanci (“musical freedom”), founded by Damani, who at the time of this writing currently have their excellent self-titled debut EP (2017) available and that project’s subsequent follow-up single, ‘Sho-vel’ featuring bassist Aneesa Strings and vocalist Vadia released in 2019. There is also Damani’s contributions to the socially conscious hip-hop collective known as SOL Development who have a number of powerful and politically charged releases to their name, most recently their ‘Sol Affirmations’ project released earlier this year in collaboration with Rhodes.

These varied and dynamic projects have gone a long way to laying some exciting groundwork for Damani’s R.E.A.C.H with elements from his work as a part of these different groups really seeming to shine through at various parts of the album.

Recorded exclusively within the hallowed grounds of Washington, DC’s, revered Kennedy Center following a week-long residency at the REACH, the five songs that comprise this release were born solely of those live sessions. Backed by bassist Chris McEwen and fellow Mino Yanci collaborator, Somadhi Johnson, on drums, R.E.A.C.H marks an exciting stage in Damani’s career as he takes that bold step towards his introduction to centre stage.

And what an introduction this is.

With much of the music on R.E.A.C.H being born of improvisation, proceedings are kicked off with arguably the most fascinating piece on the whole album in ‘Sludge’ – the track is propelled by these heavy blasts of synths, that would likely make Herbie Hancock cock an eyebrow before the song completely transforms for its second half with this thrilling journey only taking place over the course of three and a half minutes. I certainly wouldn’t have been angrier at a further three and a half minutes of ‘Sludge’-filled bliss.

Another strong album highlight comes in the form of the album’s lead single ‘Mon Yawn Ugh’ featuring the prestigious trumpeter, Keyon Harrold. With several album releases of his own and countless collaborations with artists including Vivian Sessoms and Jay-Z under his belt, as well as subbing for Miles Davis’ trumpet in Don Cheadle’s ‘Miles Ahead’ biopic, Harrold makes an incredibly welcome contribution to the album. A further guest is introduced through vocalist Vadia, who we cited as having guested for Mino Yanci’s ‘Sho-vel’ single, and who guests on ‘Slow Dance in the Jungle’ beautifully layering her wordless vocal amidst the exquisite arrangement.

With R.E.A.C.H, Damani Rhodes is set to really see his star rise, and rightfully so. His past efforts as a part of Mino Yanci and Sol Development have led to some excellent projects but it’s now time for Rhodes to focus on sharing his own and complete musical vision to audiences who will no doubt fully embrace his talents.

Imran Mirza