An accomplished guitarist-composer and Charlie Byrd devotee, nylon string fingerstyle player Nate Najar has distinguished himself as a talent worthy of recognition with his impressive output over the past ten years. On his latest trio recording, Blues for Night People: The Nate Najar Trio Remembers Charlie Byrd, the Florida-based guitarist pays tribute to an important role model with a collection of tunes either composed by or associated with the late, great guitarist. Najar also performs on Byrd’s own guitar, a 1974 Ramirez 1a nylon string classical guitar, the same guitar Andres Segovia used.
Accompanied by the veteran D.C.-based rhythm tandem of drummer Chuck Redd and bassist Tommy Cecil, Najar runs the gamut from alluring bossas and romantic ballads to urgent swingers and delicate, classically influenced numbers on his sixth outing as a leader. The chemistry and interplay throughout is apparent. These three kindred spirits are truly on one accord on this auspicious outing. “To me, it feels like there’s three of us playing together and not me just playing on top of a rhythm section,” says Nate. “And when you’re playing with guys that good, why would you do it any other way?”
The trio opens with Najar’s fresh arrangement of Byrd’s “Blues for Night People,” title track of the great guitarist’s 1957 Savoy album. Najar’s version shifts nimbly from hard-hitting funk to an insistent shuffle-swing groove, with the leader showcasing his beautiful warm tone and fluid chops along the way. “It’s really a suite that takes up the whole side of a record,” he explains. “What we played is the main theme from the last part of the suite. Chuck and I came up with the tempo change and different feels.”
Nate’s classical influences come to the fore on a crystalline interpretation “Django,” John Lewis’ delicate, introspective composition written for the Modern Jazz Quartet and which Byrd recorded on his 1960 Riverside release, The Guitar Artistry of Charlie Byrd. Najar showcases some remarkable contrapuntal playing on this lovely piece. “I had originally written that as two separate parts — the eighth note thing for me to play and Chuck was to play the melody on vibes. And we did record that arrangement on an earlier album. But I wanted to start playing it with the trio so I had to figure out how to play both parts myself.”
On Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado,” which Byrd recorded numerous times throughout his career, most notably with Stan Getz on the groundbreaking 1962 album, Jazz Samba, they fly through the familiar tune with aplomb. Redd’s brisk brushwork sets the tone and Cecil turns in a deep-toned melodic bass solo while Najar delivers a brilliant single note barrage on this lively samba. Redd switches to vibes on a faithful version of the bluesy, subdued “Swing 59,” Byrd’s 1959 tribute to Gypsy jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt, which features stellar solos from all the members of the trio. Redd remains on vibes for Joao Gilberto’s “O Pato,” which also appeared on Jazz Samba. Cecil’s resounding bass lines anchor this lively samba, which makes it that much more exhilarating when he drops out and lets the vibes and guitar engage in a spirited conversation.