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Nelson Rangell: Far Away Day

One of the original modern-jazz voices on saxophones and flute, Nelson Rangell could easily coast along with retreads of familiar territory. On the likeable new release Far Away Day (Shanachie 5068; 57:07), Rangell draws from a surprisingly fresh set of inspirations, adding a few creative departures to his arsenal of trademarks. Into the sunny and sweet category goes album opener “All ‘n’ All,” which finds Rangell’s alto bouncing around an appealing melody, buoyed by punchy, layered horns, but the windmeister is soon detouring into pumping, muscular funk (“Clutch”) and even striking, string-laden cinematic majesty (“Far Away Day”). Even in cushy ballad mode (“A Soft Place to Fall”), Rangell’s alto effectively assesses the notes, illustrating a soft-focus atmosphere without lapsing into cloying cliches. Most stirring here are two very different tracks: a unique cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Reasons” finds Rangell piping on soprano delicately, without being thin, reedy or over-ornamented-the evil triumvirate of soprano pitfalls. Textured saxes lend the familiar tune a meaty, retro feel. “Rainbow Seeker” is the other sparkling highlight, with its swirling electronics and lightly Latin rhythms couching some brilliant flute work, with an outrageously fun sense of optimism built on tricky time changes and ever-climbing melodic figures.

Originally Published