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After over twenty years in the business, Najee is what Jules Winfield in Pulp Fiction would call "cool." You never get the sense that Najee is sweating it trying to come up with the right riff. He's just too cool to sweat.
Which doesn't mean to suggest that Najee is putting it on cruise control. Rising Sun is only his eleventh album in twenty-one years , so it isn't as if he's just putting out product. As an artist he knows his comfort zone and, while not a visionary groundbreaker, Najee is a skillful musician and demonstrates a mastery of various genres.
For those that doubt Najee will ever stray very far from the smoothed-out grooves he has successfully mined for many years, he goes beyond expectations with a tasteful interpretation of James Moody's classic, "Moody's Mood For Love." Najee's sax slips and slides as he duets with producer Chris "Big Dog" Davis lovely piano and keyboard solos.
Equally skilled on flute as well as saxophone, Najee works it out on the gentle "Child At Heart" and the closing title track.
There ain't no shame in Najee's game. What he seems to enjoy most are the further pursuit of a genre of music that could be described as "rhythm and blues and jazz." Tunes like the opening track, "Clarity," "Still In Love" and "Come What May" are examples of Najee flourishing in his chosen milieu. "Still In Love" features Pieces of A Dream mastermind, James Lloyd's sleek electric piano solo, and his sensibilities are perfectly attuned with those of Najee. The vocalizing of Timmy Maia and Issac Clemon on the soulful "Can't Wait Another Minute" is a nice pop/jazz hybrid and would fit perfectly into the programming of any urban radio station.
There will be those who dismiss Najee's brand of jazz as overly commercial and contrived. That viewpoint misses the point. Jazz has never been limited to any one perspective of what is pure. Najee's music isn't going to confuse anyone with that of Sun Ra or Cecil Taylor. What he does exceptionally well within his niche is embrace many different styles without being captive to any of them.
Najee's Rising Sun is stylish and sophisticated, and the fact that it should be very, very popular doesn't diminish the fact that it's a great listen all the way through.
Track Listing: Clarity; Brazilian Affair; Child At Heart; Can't Wait Another Minute; Come What May; Out of A Dream; Moody's Mood For Love; Still In Love; Romance the Night; Smooth Sailing; Rising Sun.
Personnel: Najee: soprano and alto saxophone, flute; John Grant: acoustic and electric guitar, programming; Gary Grainger: bass; Blues Webb: drums; Nick Reider: flugelhorn and trumpet; Sisaundra Lewis: background vocals; Timmy Maia: background vocals; Isaac Clemon: background vocals; Phil Davis: piano, strings; Reginald Veal: acoustic bass; John "Little John" Roberts: drums; Randy Bowland: guitar; James Lloyd: keyboards, drum programming; Kentric Morris: drums; David Dyson: bass; Victor Williams: percussion; Jeff Antoniuk; tenor saxophone; Andy Kushner: flugelhorn and trumpet; Phil Perry: lead vocal; Rohn Lawrence: guitar; Wayne Bruce: guitar; Chris "Big Dog" Davis: various unspecified instruments.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.