Nylon-string guitarist Nate Najar channels the creative and energetic spirit of the late, great guitarist Charlie Byrd on I'm All Smiles. The album features Najar alongside Steve Boisen on bass, Chuck Redd on drums and Duduka Da Fonseca on percussion. While Najar gives ample evidence of his advanced solo guitar ability, those moments are always carefully inserted to provide contrast to the highly interactive ensemble sections. The result is an album full of tonal and improvisational twists and turns, creating an atmosphere that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging.
Najar, like his idol Byrd, draws from a wide variety of genres and influences in his playing, which comes out in the song choices and arrangements on this CD. While there is a high level of swing and bop in tunes such as "I'm All Smiles" and "Nate's Blues," some of the most enjoyable moments on the record are the Brazilian-influenced arrangements. Songs such as "Remembering Charlie Byrd" and "Samba Do Aviao" are written in a samba style, while the pop standard "House of the Rising Sun" is arranged in a 5/4 Latin feel that breathes new creative life into this often-covered song.
Apart from his highly-skilled ensemble playing, Najar is also an accomplished solo guitarist, which he brings out on the three ballads and one swing tune. While Najar doesn't play an entire solo piece on the album, his solo intros on "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?," "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," "I Cover the Waterfront" and "Inutil Passagiem" help set a mood that is then amplified and carried to the next level by his talented rhythm section. While Najar credits Byrd as one of his biggest influences, there are also remnants of Lenny Breau and Gene Bertoncini in his playing, especially during the solo guitar passages. Though he may stay true to his influences, one of the reasons this album is so successful is that Najar is always able to inject his own personality into every chord and lick.
I'm All Smiles is built out of melodic invention, creative comping and a deep sense of ensemble interaction. While Najar does not reinvent the jazz guitar trio with this disc, he has produced a recording worthy of standing alongside the classic albums of his longtime idol.
Track Listing: I'm All Smiles; Remembering Charlie Byrd; What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?; Nate's Blues; Samba Do Aviao; Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most; Swing '05; House of the Rising Sun; I Cover the Waterfront; Inutil Passagiem.
Personnel: Nate Najar: guitar; Steve Boisen: bass; Chuck Redd: drums; Duduka Da Fonseca: percussion.