In an age when recording artists often sell out their true artistic vision to the ever homogenized demands of the commercial marketplace, it’s refreshing to see a veteran performer like Dan Siegel — over 25 years into one of contemporary Jazz’s most storied careers take a full throttle approach to record the album of his dreams. With "Departure," an all-acoustic, live-in-the-studio date that marks his second release for Native Language Music, the composer and keyboardist brilliantly blends the melodic and rhythmic pop sensibilities he’s famous for with his traditional Jazz roots.
In creating this ultimate "Siegel Unplugged" experience, he surrounds himself with longtime friends and colleagues whose careers have also been defined by a powerful blend of Jazz and pop, electric and acoustic music: Brian Bromberg (who plays acoustic bass and co-produces with Siegel), Bob Sheppard (sax), Lenny Castro (percussion) and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, who twenty years ago played drums on "Northern Nights," the seminal album that launched Siegel to instrumental stardom in the infancy of what became the smooth Jazz format.
Following the soaring, emotionally sweeping opening track "Across The Sea" and "Street Talk" which offer the vintage Siegel sound, the true stripped down vibe of Departure kicks in on the exotic, string ensemble enhanced "Mosaic," which features darker, emotional piano and sax textures over a subtle, rumbling percussion and bass. No matter the format, Siegel still knows how to tug the heartstrings with a soulful ballad: "From Here On Out" and "A World Away" are elegant, ambient and romantic, while "Friends Forever" is a beautiful, jazzy piano ballad balancing darkness and light, with some lush improvisation over drum brushes and percussion.
With its swirl of ominous opening chords, playful high hat and sweet sax, and later jazzy piano mixed with a hypnotic bass groove, the title track perfectly captures the spontaneous vibe of the whole project. Siegel experiments a bit on "Soliloquy," enhancing his moody, traditional Jazz foundation with vibraphone and melodica (both of which he plays himself). "Shades Of Gray" (which features Grant Geissman on guitar) and "Castles In The Sand" are modern twists on the irresistible Vince Guaraldi influence, matching bright, easy swinging melodies, quick drumbeats and brushes and soulful bass lines. The closing cut, "Alone," is a soft-spoken piano ballad that includes light percussion textures and an irresistible tenderness from saxophonist Bob Sheppard.
After a handful of years away from the scene after 1998’s "Clairvoyance," he recorded a few new tracks for the Epic/Legacy retrospective "Along The Way: The Best of Dan Siegel" in 2000 Siegel viewed "Inside Out" and his deal with Native Language Music as an exciting opportunity to reach a whole new listening audience who might not have been there when "Northern Nights," "Late One Night" (1989), "Going Home" (1991) and "Reflections" (1992) were setting the standards in the early days of smooth Jazz.
"Just like in the old days, I still find making music spiritual, invigorating, and I enjoy rolling with the changes and opportunities," he says. "These days, I’m still excited, music is still my religion and food for my soul. Despite all the peaks and valleys in my career, I believe in its rich communicative and healing powers. It’s love to me, the essence of life."