Rha Stranges – Multidirectional ★★★

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Perfect Star Records
Rha Stranges (d), Gianni Lenoci (p), Gaetano Partipilo (as, ss), Pietro Rosato (bc, ts, ss), Francesco Angiuli (b), Jamie Leeming (g) + guest Filippo Lattanzi (marimba). Rec. date not stated

This recording from London-based drummer Rha Stranges showcases a feisty Italian septet playing some crisp and captivating new tunes, the majority of which were written and arranged by Stranges. ‘Fly Far Away from You’ expounds on a lively riff pitting horn players Gaetano Partipilo and Pietro Rosato against each other an octave apart, and allowing space for a long duo section between piano and drums at the close. ‘The White Link between You and Me’ contains a whiff of Secret Love in the melody underpinned by a tightly drawn bass vamp played by Francesco Angiuli, which stretches a taut canvas for guitar, alto and tenor to weave in and out of each other. Pianist Gianni Lenoci then claims centre-stage and offers splashes of arpeggiated colour and bluesy clips before roving around freely over a welter of high notes. Rosato brings the tune back in on bass clarinet and builds a delectable lower line to let the thing run its course. ‘I Love You So!’ hints at a likely inspiration for this album - Rha’s wife Lucia - and this serenade certainly captures the fervour of his esteem, beginning with some passionate solo piano and then handing over the task of laying down a very pretty melody to bass clarinet, sax and guitar.

I loved ‘For the 4th Time, Chicken!’, a cheeky call and response fusion-y number, where the musicians enjoy chasing each other’s tails, Stranges articulating the frisky energy with his usual deft assurance. There is an epic solo from Lenoci on a prepared piano, the horns chipping in as a pack, switching the time feel and building into a pleasing a cappella moment, before the tenor heads off with a lovely lyrical tour through the changes. Guitarist Jamie Leeming then lifts the sound to a whole new level, his effect pedal producing a distant 70s vibe, only to be pulled back sharply to the present with a spiky shout chorus of sorts, cuing up a hugely inventive drum solo from Stranges, and ending with a quirky cadenza on tenor sax.

I was not sure about the track ‘The Moon and Her Son’ the first time I heard it, as the guitar has a strange distorted African sound as if it’s played on some kind of homemade instrument, but the tune is catchy and memorable, and really digs in when the horns and rest of the rhythm section join to create a feature spot for Filippo Lattanzi on marimba, as the thing develops a lovely languid 12/8 feel. Despite the title, I got a lot more from the next track, ‘Quello Che Non Ho Capito Del Jazz’, and enjoyed its refusal to colour within the lines. The band clearly likes incorporating a range of musical genres, as evidenced by Leeming’s rearrangement of Bob Dylan’s classic on ‘The Man With the Tambourine’, which takes the album momentarily into a more soulful country zone. The album concludes with ‘Afrika Metropolitaine’, a fabulous tune by Lenoci, which begins with low piano rumblings and frantic riffs signifying a more troubling and less pastoral sonic landscape. This final blast of free and infectious energy, with Stranges holding the fort with a fast straight ahead feel, shows the band at their best, charting unknown territory and, as the album title suggests, flying off creatively in many directions.    

- Sarah Chaplin