One of the smoothest and most exacting of sax/flute players in the smooth jazz biz has always been, without a doubt, the gentleman we simply know as Najee. The two-time Grammy nominee and Heads Up recording master of cool has had a handle on what makes this extraordinarily popular subgenre of jazz so extraordinary for so long that he can honestly claim one of the fingerprints on it. This latest project, Rising Sun, one that he proudly touts as being "a little different" while still appealing to his strong, trusting base, does tease with a couple of great tributes ranging from traditional to indie type of goodies. By the way, his bio provided the treat of an interesting story of a chance meeting between himself and traditional jazz flutist James Moody in a woodwind instruments store that later results in Najee’s tribute here on "Moody’s Mood for Love." He also opens the album with an approving nod to John Mayer on "Clarity."
Still, this is Najee, all Najee. Just listen. Of course the collaborations with Pieces of a Dream keyboardist James Lloyd ("Out of a Dream" - hmm.... I wonder how they thought of that title and "Come What May") and the silky-voiced Phil Perry definitely help here and had to be major experiences. They certainly manifest themselves on this album as being such. Lloyd has always been such a pro at composing the funkiest and most irresistible "shake-it-up" jams, and Perry has always had the crooner’s midnight love formula. Add in the Najee factor, and how could one possibly miss?
Straying from the album for a moment and just focusing on performance, I had the pleasure of witnessing the diverse talents, durability, and overall fortitude of this virtuoso during the Wayman Tisdale smooth jazz cruise last year and, let me tell you, he (Najee) was called upon by almost every performer to sit in on his or her session! Is that a testament to one man’s musical prowess or what? Back in context, that prowess shines through on this album.
When one such as Najee is as talented and gifted and naturally inclined to conceive the magic that will materialize into a solid gem time and again, one learns not to doubt. On Rising Sun, Najee again leaves no room for doubt.