Monday, 9 February 2009

Najee - Rising Sun

This is Najee’s second – and I feel his best – set for Heads Up Records. Its been a long time since his “Najee’s Theme” debut in 1986 and the man has given us a great deal of classy material since then, whether they be soulful vocal cuts or jazzy instrumentals. I always lean more towards the vocal cuts, and I can always rely on Najee to include at least one on each CD. The extraordinarily talented Chris “Big Dog” Davis is the main producer here, and adds to the musical mix – especially as his keyboard skills are second to none. James Lloyd from Pieces Of A Dream also takes a role in production, as do John Grant and Phil Davis. Heads Up is the perfect label for Najee. I have always associated it with digital quality and precision. Recordings are always classy, well produced and clean. This fits Najee like a glove. “Brazilian Affair” does not claim any Latin influences as such, but Timmy Maia’s backing vocals and the 80s styled keys hark back somewhat, making the song warm if nothing else. This is a lovely semi-instrumental and the programming and keys would not be out of place on any recent Jeff Lorber project.

I am totally gripped with the beautiful and haunting “Child At Heart” which gives Najee a damned good excuse to revert to his flute. This song carries me away; the flute beckons you along on this aural journey supplemented by tasteful string and synth-piano courtesy of Chris Davis. Reginald Veal’s acoustic bass is a gentle backdrop to John Roberts’ agile drumming. This is a superb song for a warm, relaxing afternoon. Eighties group Mission USA’s Randy Bowland is an ace guitarist and adds his magic to the superb semi-instrumental “Can’t Wait Another Minute”; a track which also features Timmy Maia and Isaac Clemon on backing vocals. I do, however much prefer full-blown vocal songs. We are provided with a KILLER on here courtesy of the legendary Phil Perry – this man is surely everyone’s favourite singer. The sultry Rhodes keys, simmering sax and dreamy synth are the perfect accompaniment to Perry’s immediately recognisable vocal. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE record a CD of NEW songs, Phil! Until you do this belter will more than suffice. Classy and essential, I would strongly recommend a purchase of this song for this track alone. The use of soprano sax also is also an inspired choice for this type of groove. If you love the uptempo, freshness provided by the likes of Paul Brown, Rick Braun and Brian Culbertson then you should check out the fruity “Come What May”. The use of additional sax to act as background to Najee’s soprano sax is one that is well matched. Great stuff! My final pick is the tropical and 80s filled hand clapper, “Still In Love”. Smooth Jazz is definitely NOT my thing, but whether you would class this as smooth or not, I don’t really know. All I know is it stands out and above from its peers and is well worth a scribble to Father Christmas for inclusion under the tree this year!

Barry Towler

Buy on Amazon