The topsy-turvy story of Nelson Rangell's life in smooth jazzdom can be told from his appearances in the mid-'90s in two categories of Jazziz's annual reader's poll. His record labels GRP and Shanachie have tried to discourage him from putting too much flute amid the sax on his recent efforts, but he once showed up second only to Dave Valentin as a top flute player. In 1995, he was voted one of the genre's most underrated performers. To this day, despite phenomenally produced projects, a distinctive sound that incorporates his trademark horn doubling and heavy label promotion, he has to struggle to be heard each time out. While Boney James and Dave Koz get the glory and gold sales, Rangell's career is a constant battle to survive. While Rangell seems to constantly battle with the inner demons that tell him he's never gonna be the big star he should be, his response has always been the same -- put out the best darn projects he can and work with new producers who continually challenge his creative spirit. He doesn't miss a trick on Far Away Day (Shanachie), which features no less than six producers, some longtime Rangell associates, others brand new: David Mann, Mario Mendivil, Kip Kuepper, Darren Rahn, Chris Parks, and on and off Sanborn producer Michael Colina. Longtime Rangell partner Kuepper tackles three tracks, including a slickly textured take on Earth, Wind & Fire's "Reasons" that sticks a little too close to the original. No doubt that was the label's penchant for cover tunes at work, but Kuepper and Rangell hit much greater artistic heights on a jumpy, flute-driven Latin romp through Joe Sample's wistful and optimistic "Rainbow Seeker." Kuepper creates the throbbing synth groove while Rangell frenetically switches off between flute and piccolo. The two also combine on the unique title track, which begins with a plane landing over a trip hop groove, then evolves with an almost film score like synth orchestra harmony line backing a rich, emotional alto melody. The tune breaks at one point for spoken vocals over a distant, tinny sax interlude that Rangell deems "a musical hallucination." The rest of Far Away Day is a little more conventional, with Colina working the greatest magic as he once did with Rangell's chief influence, David Sanborn. On "Like No Tomorrow," Colina blends alto and flute with Nicky Maroch's snappy high tone blues guitar lines. Just so things don't get too Sanbornesque, the producer on "The Gathering" pairs the guitarist with Rangell's gentler minded, bittersweet soprano in search of the ultimate smooth jazz ballad.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran