Najee: Mind Over Matter (2009)
A fixture on smooth jazz radio since his debut album Najee's Theme (EMI, 1986), at this point in his career Najee is more consistent than innovative. He's a worthy inheritor of the title Grover Washington Jr., held as master saxophonist of the genre but, with a few rare exceptions such as Songs From the Key of Life (EMI, 1995), he hasn't strayed far from his usual smooth jazz and funk territory. Najee has a pleasant tone and style to spare, but Mind Over Matter doesn't shake the foundations as much as it builds upon them.
Mind Over Matter isn't quite as diverse in its approach as its predecessor, Rising Sun (Heads Up, 2007), and lacks its immediacy and improvisation, but instead offers up a pleasing selection of urban grooves set off by Najee's playing on alto and soprano saxophones. Standouts include the hip-hop keyboards and synths by Roderick Bonner on "Love You A Lifetime," which are echoed by Darren Rahn's Fender Rhodes and Mel Brown's slinky bass lines all over "Sweet Summer Nights."
Eric Benet's vocals on the sentimental throwback, "We Gone Ride," capture the mood of old flames attempting to squeeze out one last spark, as Najee's soprano saxophone solos in the background and producer DeMonte Posey adds a horn section to fatten up the sound. But it's "The Journey," where Najee switches to alto saxophone, that really cuts loose. Najee works with several different keyboard players here, but he has a particularly nice rapport with Darryl Woodson on their three collaborations"Forever and A Day After," "Needless to Say" and the nearly seven-minute centerpiece, "The Journey."
"The Journey" is where the musicians allow themselves space to just play and not worry over whether a radio programmer frets over the song being too long. Woodson's piano and Najee's alto sax take turns filling the spaces left by the rest of the band's quietly percolating playing. Najee could really surprise his fan base if he'd do more songs like "The Journey," where he flexes his musical muscles.
There's nothing bad about Mind Over Matter, as it's never less than enjoyable. Is it essential listening? No. It's a fine and likable album by an artist who seems to flirt with greatness, but hasn't yet gone the extra mile.
Track Listing: Love You A Lifetime; Sweet Summer Nights; Mind Over Matter; Love Forever and A Day After; We Gone Ride; The Journey; Stolen Glances; Needless to Say; One More Thing; Moon Over Carolina
Personnel: Najee: alto and soprano saxophones, flutes; Roderick Banner III: keyboards, keyboard solo, drum and synth programming (1); Richii Valentino: bass (1); Myron McAdory: guitar (1), David "DP" Powell: drums (1); Will Holton: background tenor and soprano saxophones and horn arrangement (1); Darren Rahn: fender rhodes, keyboards, tenor saxophone; drum programming and horn section saxophones (2); Mel Brown: bass (2) ; Frank Selman: electric guitar (2); Jason Rahn: trumpets, flugelhorn (2); Kentric Morris: drums (3, 4, 6, 8) ; Victor Williams: percussion (3, 4, 6, 8) ; Will Brock: keyboards, piano solo (3) ; Alvin White: guitar (3, 4, 6, 8) ; C.J. Mercer: bass (3, 4, 6, 8); Lomon Andrews: background vocals (4); Daryl Woodson: keyboards, piano (4, 6, 8); John Grant: acoustic guitar solo (8); Eric Benet: lead and background vocals (5); Pino Palladino: bass (5); DeMonte Posey: programming (5); International Horns horn section: Mike Partlett: tenor and alto saxophone; Andrew Lipman: trombone; John Papenbrook: trumpet (5); Jeff Lorber: keyboards, synth, electric bass, guitar (7, 9); Tony Moore: drums (7, 9); Dwight Sills: guitar (7, 9); Gary Taylor: lead and background vocals, all instruments and programming (10)