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Rising Sun

Najee

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Album Review

It's been nearly twenty years since his debut Najee's Theme set the pace for the explosion of urban vibes in the genre that evolved into smooth jazz, and the versatile New York based saxman and flutist is still innovating in the early 2000s. After hanging and touring with Prince during the early part of the decade, his signing with contemporary jazz and world music Mecca Heads Up — and releasing 2005's My Point of View — brought the Najee vibe to a whole new generation of jazz and old-school soul fans. Rising Sun was an even more exciting and diverse date, with Najee drawing from a wide range of pop, world and jazz influences to complement trademark groove ballads ("Can't Wait Another Minute") and lively light funk gems like "Come What May" and the seriously jumpin' old-school jam "Out of a Dream." Both of these sizzling horn-textured tracks were co-penned by the saxman with Pieces of a Dream keyboardist James Lloyd, who also produced tracks on My Point of View. Najee creates an appealing hybrid of pop, samba and retro-soul keyboard elements on the percussive "Brazilian Affair," which follows the opening track, a crunchy grooving, organic take on John Mayer's infectious "Clarity," a cut truly reflective of Najee's love for this era's contemporary singer/songwriter vibe. Though the flute had, unfortunately, fallen out of favor on smooth jazz radio by this point, it's always been a part of Najee's deeper artistry; the wistful "Child At Heart" and the seductive, samba-tinged title track are perfect showcases for this. Speaking of which, a chance encounter at an NYC woodwind store with the legendary James Moody led to one of Rising Sun's most compelling tracks, a highly lyrical, improvisation-rich sax-driven reading of "Moody's Mood for Love." Straight-ahead jazz critics have found it easy to dismiss Najee as a groove happy lightweight over the years, but tracks like this — and so much of the powerful playing on this disc — prove once and for all that he's a serious jazz player. Who just happens to like commercial R&B and play it like nobody's business.

Biography

Born: New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the best-selling instrumentalists of the late '80s to mid-'90s, Najee has been a consistent favorite in the quiet storm and so-called "smooth jazz" markets. Often compared to Kenny G, George Howard, and Dave Koz, the New Yorker has been greatly influenced by Grover Washington Jr. — although he hasn't been nearly as adventurous. Heavily produced and quite formulaic, Najee's albums have tended to avoid improvisation and strive for commercial radio airplay above all else. Debuting in 1987...
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Rising Sun, Najee
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