Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a personal perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.
Well known for his classy virtuosity, sax and flute player Najee has been one of the most influential figures in contemporary jazz for the past twenty-five years. He enjoyed his first big break in 1983 when, with his brother Fareed, he toured with Chaka Khan. This in turn brought him to the attention of producer Charles Huggins and it was through Huggins that Najee cut his debut recording for EMI, Najees Theme, in 1986. The album went platinum and two years later this success was repeated with the follow up Day By Day. Since then Najee has added eight more releases plus one ‘best of’ compilation and has garnered four ‘gold discs’ along the way. Now he is back with his latest offering, The Smooth Side Of Soul.
Variously produced by Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis, Darren Rahn and Jeff Lorber plus guest input from Phil Perry, James K Lloyd and Mel Brown this is an album that delivers exactly what the title suggests it might. In doing so it provides several numbers that can best be described as ‘radio ready’ while still including plenty of the sophisticated grooves for which Najee has become famous.
Talking of radio, the hugely attractive ‘One Night In Soho’ is a fine example of highly commercial, mid tempo contemporary jazz that Najee nevertheless injects with a quota of his trademark edgy sound. Indeed, among the current crop of contemporary jazz saxophonists, Najee is arguably the most comfortable when stepping over to the straight-ahead side of the tracks and although not quite going there with ‘Dis N Dat’ he takes it as an opportunity to show off his jazzy prowess. Later Najee goes one step further with ‘Sound For Sore Ears’ where he partners with Lloyd to recreate the familiar Jimmy Heath tune that can be found on the 1972 long-player ‘The Gap Sealer’.
Najee switches to flute for the enticingly mellow ‘You Tube’ while elsewhere ‘In The Clouds’ proves to be another deliciously turned down cut that finds Najee at his sublime best on sax. In keeping with this tranquil theme the introspective ‘Mari’ serves as another tremendous vehicle for Najee’s intoxicating flute yet all three are in delightful contrast to the swaggering ‘Fu Fu She She’ where his playing is very much on the funky side.
Jeff Lorber’s contribution to ‘First Kiss’ is notable for the way in which he reigns in his typical fusion flavored disposition in favor of something altogether smoother and another track which is right up there with the collection’s best is ‘Perfect Nights’. With Najee hitting a melodic, easy grooving stride, this one is very hard to beat yet in terms of personal favorites it is the shimmering ‘Just To Fall In Love’ that steals the honors. Here Najee’s playing on flute is wonderful and complemented in no small measure by the outstanding vocals of Phil Perry.
Out now on the Shanachie label, The Smooth Side Of Soul is well worth closer attention.
Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.