Najee | You, Me and Forever
by Peggy Oliver
From the moment he earned a Grammy nomination for his debut album inspired by his namesake almost three decades ago, Najee has claimed the market for his distinct crossover ability in sustaining jazz and R&B fans. Any other superlatives that may apply to Najee’s career can be summed up with an Energizer Bunny work mentality and a knack for oozing the soul in contemporary jazz, as proven with fifteen CD’s starting with Najee’s Theme, most having reached the top five on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. His early affection and respect for R&B has rubbed off through all these years, generating a tasty hybrid of soul, funk and contemporary jazz. Yet Najee’s musicality continues to astound audiences since he first played with Chaka Khan after graduating from The New England Conservatory of Music. On top of his natural R&B flow, Najee received classical training and developed his woodwind chops (tenor and soprano sax plus flute) with mentors, such as bebop master Jimmy Heath from The Heath Brothers. For his latest effort, You, Me and Forever (Shanachie Entertainment), Najee blends his usual jazz brew with plenty of love and romance, supported by performances from established and newer yet proven talent, along with members of his current working band.
There are several special treats on You, Me and Forever when Najee breaks out the flute, starting with “Air,” a hypnotizing melody powered by a hard hitting funk bass, drums and acoustic piano. The Antonio Carlos Jobim trademark, “Wave,” upholds the integrity of the original melody, yet with a modern interpretation that floats on a bossa nova groove. Speaking of the bossa nova, “Butterfly Girl,” finds Najee’s flute gliding within the calmness that slowly builds to climatic percussive barrages.
Two particular vocal appearances are absolute must hears. “Signature” offers a bit of the British soul jazz flavor a la Incognito, anchored by co-composer/keyboardist Frank McComb’s background voices embracing the atmosphere of Najee’s soulful lines. Andrea Wallace’s rich second soprano voice caresses and powers through “Give It All We’ve Got,” while going toe to toe with Najee’s soprano sax.
Shanachie in-house producer, Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis’ fingerprints are all over You, Me and Forever’s current single, “Fly with the Wind,” with its smooth jazz appeal that sprinkles funk and gospel overtones, this time featuring Alex Bugnon in the piano chair. The firecracker energy behind “Spectrum” works from a smooth jazz base before eventually switching gears into fusion overdrive with intense guitars matched with synthesizers. Though less on the intensity of “Spectrum” yet never lacking in energy, Najee and pianist James Lloyd play it loose for an all-acoustic funk and blues barrel of fun on “Jannah,” as only Najee could envision. Last but not least, Najee’s pure sax phrasing and articulation frames the title track accenting the pleasantries of romance.
In all fairness, the blemishes on You, Me and Forever are practically non-existent, sans maybe the slightly heavy-handed lead voice of Chuck Johnson on Ambrosia’s 1980 hit ballad, “Biggest Part of Me.” Just like back in the day, whatever Najee has mastered on saxophone and flute still preserves an excitement that stirs the R&B and jazz pot even more. Five out of five stars.
The Urban Music Scene