Despite a chic album cover reminiscent of 1950s west coast jazz, and a well groomed young guitarist to boot, there is less substance on the Floridian’s latest effort than there could be. Cool is definitely the word to describe Nate Najar’s second album as a leader on his own independent Blue Line jazz label. “Cool” can get old quickly, however. Saturated with this coolness, Najar’s band, despite great talent, lacks originality.
The guitarist is clearly influenced by masters Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass, but he does not maintain “Montgomery-esque” rhythmic intensity in his solos and he has a particularly tough time ending his solos (as does bassist Steve Boisen). He certainly has the bebop vocabulary in his ear and under his fingers. But while his imitations of Charlie Christian are refreshing in today’s jazz scene, his stylistic limitations limit his credibility as a modern player and relegate him to the “cool school” idiom.
While comprised of excellent soloists, Najar’s rhythm section does not keep its leader afloat and at times seemingly leaves him in mid-air with nowhere to go; especially on Johnny Mercer’s “I’m an Old Cowhand.” Interesting melodic and harmonic ideas are advanced on fellow Blue Line artist/ guitarist Carl Amundsen’s original, CIS (which is reminiscent of “I’m Beginning to See the Light”). More is definitely a harmonic ear opener with an excellent solo statement by vibraphonist Steve Koppelman. Also listen for a superb ending on Henry Mancini’s “Dreamsville.”
Perhaps he seeks to emulate a “jazz for rainy days” mood (which he certainly achieves), but he fails to make you excited that you’re inside on said rainy day listening to him. A lot of the tunes could have used some different texture. Perhaps a few tracks with horn backgrounds or moving between regular and double time. Perhaps my sophisticated jazz ear is incapable of thinking in terms of the average jazz listener, who is bound to buy this album and enjoy it for its viability as elevator music. However, Nate Najar shows promise and great potential. Give him and a few years to shed and I assure you he’ll make it.
Track Listing: CIS (Amundson) - 3:36
Battle Hymn of the Republic (Traditional) - 6:08
More (Ortalani) - 4:07
I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande) (Mercer) - 5:21
A Mellow Mood (Najar) - 7:01
Feels Like Spring (Najar) - 3:06
Dreamsville (Mancini) - 4:35
8. Sally (And Her Silly Friends) (Mullen) - 2:44
Personnel: Sam Koppelman - Vibraphone
Nate Najar - Guitar, Producer
Stephen Bucholtz - Drums
Steve Boisen - Bass