Like many titles released in 2021, Dan Siegel's Faraway Place is a product of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was conceived and recorded mostly in isolation by a stellar cadre of musicians: drummers Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Gadd, and Omari Williams, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, trumpeter/trombonist Lee Thornburg, guitarist Allen Hinds, acoustic bassist Brian Bromberg, electric bassists Abraham Laboriel and Dwayne "Smitty" Smith, and percussionist Lenny Castro. Brazilian vocalist Rogerio Jardim also appears on two tracks. Siegel composed the music in isolation and attended two socially distanced sessions in a Los Angeles studio with Gadd and Colaiuta. He sent the finished rhythm tracks with piano demos to his cast and had them add their parts, then added finished piano, accordion, organ, and other keyboards to frame these 11 short to mid-length jazz tunes, offered in a variety of styles.
"Old School" commences with a funky soul-jazz vamp à la the Cadet era Ramsey Lewis Trio, appended by Castro's bubbling congas around the piano and grooving horns with a chart as fine as Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder." Siegel layers a B-3 organ under his meaty piano fills and accents before Hinds adds funky wah-wah guitar atop Bromberg's bassline as the jam begins to cook. "Sentimental Story" is a midtempo ballad framed by Castro's fluid percussion and Gadd's intricate brushwork. Hinds' chord voicings and Bromberg's resonant bassline allow Siegel to explore a melody that nods to the influence of Vince Guaraldi. "Tried and True" commences with a slippery, funky piano groove but quickly evolves as the horn section, bassline, and lead guitar lines build a groove recalling Gaucho-period Steely Dan. "Something You Said" is the first of four tunes to feature Siegel's accordion playing. Here it whispers under the shimmering piano that crisscrosses folk and pop lyricism as Hinds and the rhythm section dance around them. Siegel's solo expands the tune into post-bop territory. "Curves Ahead" with Williams on drums and Smith on electric bass, weds the vintage soul-jazz to Latin and contemporary jazz with a smoking electric piano solo and wafting organ. The brief "Your Smile" weds a classical chamber piece with Baroque overtones to samba. Only two-minutes long, it features Jardim's airy, wordless vocals atop piano, upright bass, bassoon, English horn, and viola. Hinds' pulsing wah-wah guitar and Laboriel's simmering electric bassline underscore the prog rock-cum-contemporary jazz groove that colors "Looking Up." Colaiuta's rolling breaks and accents frame Siegel's crystalline chords and canny right-hand fills before he delivers a downright funky solo. Closer "Once Again," offers stylish contemporary post-bop with just the hint of a Latin tinge as Siegel walks the line between swing and soul and Bromberg digs deep into wood to extract the groove with the elegant syncopation of Colaiuta. Faraway Place stands with Siegel's best work for its complex yet utterly accessible approach to rhythmic interplay and kaleidoscopic harmonic invention, all rendered in relatively brief but beautifully arranged compositions.