Najee's debut CD, Najee's Theme,
infused contemporary jazz with a heavy dose of R&B flavor.
With catchy melodies and vocal choruses setting the context
for the instrumental grooves it caught on immediately and
defined the benchmark sound of the emerging radio format.
Since then he has released a series of consistent and appealing
CDs that haven't stepped too far outside this well traveled
territory. He has always been committed to giving the audience
what they come to him for, soprano sax driven R&B grooves
that are gentle on the spirit and easy to settle into at
the end of the day. This approach has worked well for him
but in the live setting he has also shown his skills as a
powerful player who can kick it up a few notches on soprano,
alto, and flute and has some solid straightahead chops on
the side. On Rising Sun he gives
long time fans a lot of what they come for while showcasing
the other facets of his musicianship. It sounds like he has
joined the ranks of musicians who added a heavy dose of fan-friendly
music to their radio-friendly body of work. The soprano driven
R&B grooves and vocal choruses are here, but he has expanded
on those themes and added a lot of new flavor to the mix
with punchy horn sections, breezy Latin flavored jams, some
straightahead improvisation and a step into indie pop-rock
territory. The result is his most fully realized project,
one that brings a new level of vitality to his two decade
Rising Sun opens with his innovative, stylized reworking
of John Mayer's "Clarity." He takes the essence
of that song - the jangly guitar strumming and pop rock sensibility
- and adds a jazzy swing and gospelized chorus. It takes
a strong sense of your own style to add such an individualistic
stamp to a song that has been so well defined by another
artist. "Brazilian Affair" returns to Najee's stylistic
foundation with his soprano gliding over a breezy bossa-nova
groove. The Brazilian vibe reappears in the title track,
with Najee playing a glistening flute line in a song that
sounds like it came straight from a sunny beachside hangout.
On "Child At Heart" he approaches the flute from
a different perspective, playing in a straightahead acoustic
setting. Over the years he has said he would like to do more
straightahead jazz and that song and his version of the classic "Moody's
Mood For Love" are a strong indication that he should.
He has the chops, he can improvise, and he makes it accessible.
His alto work on "Moody's" is clean and haunting,
it draws you in. There are touches of contemporary R&B
in the arrangements, just enough to put the songs in a familiar
context while he gets to showcase his improvisational skills.
There are two vocal ballads but the contemporary instrumentals
here are looser, funkier and more energized. "Still
in Love" is vinatge Najee, one of those songs that is
built around a catchy melody line that repeats while he solos
around it. He delivers some strong alto soloing on "Smooth
Sailing," a midtempo burner with Grover inflections.
The two collaborations with James Lloyd from Pieces of A
Dream are both spiced up by a horn sections bringing bursts
of energy in the form of irresistible hooks. "Come What
May" has a bouncy midtempo feel and a joyous melody
line. "Out Of A Dream" is propulsive and danceable,
with Najee soloing on alto around a tight, catchy tune.
Multi-instrumentalist Chris Davis, who produced My
Point of View, returns as the producer
for most of the songs on Rising Sun.
He also wrote five songs, and co-wrote a sixth with vocalist
Phil Perry and plays the majority of the instruments
on several tracks. He's a gifted musician and the fact
that he is not overexposed and has not put his stamp
on a large amount of product adds to the uniqueness of
this one. The impressive thing about this CD is the way
Najee has taken on a wider scope of material, stretched
the field artistically but framed it with the elements
that have become his musical identity over the years.
It adds a sense of continuity to the songs on this CD
and links it to his overall body of work. Whenever an
artist has this type of success and longevity with a
lot of it based on a stylized sound they tend to have
an extremely loyal fan base on one side and another segment
of the audience that starts to become passive and not
anticipate each new release. Most artists who have been
on the scene for as long as he has encounter this situation
and he has joined the ranks of the ones who continue
to grow and successfully reinvent themselves. Rising
Sun will satisfy the loyal fans, bring
the passive ones back into the fold, lure in some new
ones and set us up to anticipate his future endeavors.
- Shannon West