Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Najee - "The Smooth Side Of Soul" - Shanachie 1/31/12 #jazz

Najee is a master storyteller. Whether the debonair multi-instrumentalist is engaged in a verbal or musical conversation, his alluring charisma has a way of seducing you into his world. A quadruple threat who is equally adept on soprano, tenor and alto saxophones and flute, Najee’s technical agility, grace, compositional prowess, unbridled passion, fearless genre bending and superior musicianship have made him one of the most sought after musicians of his generation. In a business where trends and artists come and go, Najee’s name is synonymous with innovation, consistency and the best in contemporary jazz. With two Platinum and four Gold albums under his belt, he is an icon whose musical vision spawned an entire new genre by fusing the music close to his heart (R&B and jazz). Three decades later he is showing that he is not done yet! An alum of the New England Conservatory of Music, Najee was mentored by jazz giants Frank Foster and Jimmy Heath as well as classical maven and flutist Harold Jones of the New York Philharmonic. He has collaborated with everyone from Prince and Quincy Jones to Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan and Herbie Hancock. He has also had the distinction to perform for Presidents Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela and made appearances on The Tonight Show and Good Morning America. “I have always tried to maintain consistency when it comes to music I’ve recorded throughout the years,” confides Najee. “As an artist I have been fortunate to attract an audience very early in my career that has followed and grown with me. My challenge has always been to record music that I enjoy playing while at the same time meeting the requirements that I believe my audience would like to hear. I am always looking for something to help me continue to grow as a musician.” On January 31, 2012, Shanachie Entertainment will release Najee’s highly anticipated label debut, The Smooth Side Of Soul, a sublime offering from the peerless instrumentalist and composer, that is a testament as to why he has long reigned as the King of contemporary jazz.

“Recording The Smooth Side Of Soul was truly a labor of love. Jeff Lorber, Chris "Big Dog" Davis, Darren Rahn, Phil Perry and James Lloyd are not only great artists but they are all friends,” exclaims Najee. “Any time I work with any of these gentlemen it is always easy and fun. I think this comes across in the music.” The camaraderie that Najee feels permeates every track on The Smooth Side Of Soul, which opens with the ultra funky “Dis ‘N Dat,” which Najee co-wrote with Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis (George Clinton, Will Downing, Kim Burrell, Maysa). The song sets the mood for The Smooth Side Of Soul, with its fat bass lines, buttery keys and Najee’s robust and soulfully expressive tenor. Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis contributes several songs to the CD including the catchy “You Tube,” and the captivating “Perfect Nites.” Najee explains of the latter, “This song is just something you can listen to while cruising down the highway in your favorite car on your way to your favorite destination.” Shifting moods, Najee invites Phil Perry into the mix on the dance inspiring and disco flavored “Just To Fall In Love,” penned by Will Downing, Phil Perry and Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis. The song highlights Najee’s impeccable chops as he cuts it up and doubles on tenor and flute. Phil Perry’s vocals are at top notch and his gorgeous falsetto is unrivaled. The duo craft an inviting mix of R&B, soul and disco that leaves you wanting more. “It reminds me of the very first record I ever played on for a label called TK Disco and featured me playing flute,” reminisces Najee. “Phil Perry has done a masterful job performing on the record and video.” The charming and fun-loving video features guest appearances by the lovely and talented Vanessa Bell Calloway and R&B songbird N’Dambi.

A master at creating mesmerizing melodies that stay in your head and tapestries of sound that envelop you in the richness of their texture and composition, Najee summons inspiration for his work from every facet of his life. “As a composer I draw from everything that interests me. I enjoy collaborating with other composers and producers. Like most artists there are life experiences that are in your spirit when you write music.” Some of the kindred spirits

Najee joins forces with on The Smooth Side Of Soul are keyboardist and producer Jeff Lorber (Dave Koz, Michael Franks, Chris Botti, Rick Braun) and saxophonist and producer Darren Rahn (Wayman Tisdale, Eric Darius, Bob James, Jonathan Butler).

On “In The Clouds” Najee and Jeff Lorber concoct a free flowing, ethereal and trippy number that features Najee on alto and flute. Najee is also highlighted on alto on the track “Perfect Nites.” Najee’s alto elicits a warmth, lyricism and muscularity that is enviable. “I can recall the first time I heard Charlie Parker on record. I couldn't believe that the saxophone could do what he did with it. I also recall the first time I heard Grover Washington Jr. perform “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life". I couldn't believe that this saxophonist with a traditional jazz sound could play a popular song of the time with such melodic precision and gravity,” states Najee. “These two artists made me look at the alto saxophone in a different light.”

When Najee burst onto the scene with his soulful R&B, soul and jazz drenched sound and songs like “Najee’s Theme,” “Sweet Love” and “Betcha Don’t Know,” it was not long before his trademark soprano found a home at the top of the charts and he carved out his own unique niche in the musical landscape. “My first love was the tenor saxophone and flute,” confides Najee. “It was my brother Fareed who got me to play soprano saxophone. We would argue over me not wanting to play soprano. Then one day someone gave me a soprano saxophone and I played on his songs. That began my soprano saxophone career and little did I know then, that would be the instrument to make me popular. On The Smooth Side Of Soul the one track that features Najee’s soprano is the beautiful “First Kiss” which Najee wrote with Jeff Lorber and Dawn Morales. Najee’s lyrical and tender playing is complimented by Lorber’s acoustic piano. “Of course we all remember our ‘First Kiss,’” reminisces Najee.

The Smooth Side Of Soul also showcases “One Night In Soho,” a gorgeous and spirited waltz Najee co-wrote with Darren Rahn, highlighting his supple tenor and that pays homage to two of his favorite destinations – Soho in NY and Soho in London. Najee and Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis cut loose and have some fun with their song “Fu Fu She She.” Najee says of the latter, “This song is about those people we have encountered at some time or another. We all know those Starbucks, Gucci, Rolex, and Calvin Klein type personalities. For me I find these people to be a lot of fun and a study in itself. Hell, I might just be one of those people!” Najee and Davis also co-wrote the swinger “Mari,” which features Najee’s impeccable flute work. Najee did not always plan on playing the flute. “One Christmas Eve my tenor and alto saxophones were stolen,” he explains. “For an entire year I did not play saxophones at all. My brother Fareed and I were in a band together and I was the lead sax player. One can only imagine how heartbreaking it was to lose my instruments. That experience ended up being a major blessing in disguise. I was forced to study the flute more seriously. For a year I dedicated my life to advancing on the flute. This was the only way I was going to be able to continue playing in our band.”

Few musicians can dip in and out of genres and styles as effortlessly as Najee. His decision to close The Smooth Side Of Soul with a Jimmy Heath classic is brilliant. His take on the Philly tenor titan’s “is His Sound For Sore Ears” is a solid straight ahead burner that smokes from beginning to end. It features another Philly musician, pianist James Lloyd from Pieces of a Dream. “In 2011, I performed a concert for the James Moody foundation at the Blue Note in New York City. David Sanborn, Roy Hargrove, Paquito D'Rivera and Jimmy Heath were on the gig. I had not seen Jimmy in many years and I was extremely excited to be on the same stage with him,” recalls Najee. “I told him that I always loved his song ‘Sound For Sore Ears’ and that I would like to record it. He said to me that he would be honored if I did. Words cannot describe what Jimmy Heath and others have meant to my brother and I as a musician, mentor, and educator. This is my way to say thank you to such a great man.

Born in the Greenwich Village in New York City and raised in Jamaica, Queens, Najee’s musical pursuits began in grade school. “As a kid I was into the R&B and Jazz music of my time,” he shares. “I familiarized myself with different kinds of music all the time.

As I began to develop on my instrument, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Yusef Lateef and Hubert Laws on flute were some of the artists that inspired me. As an industrious and hungry young musician, Najee had the good fortune of coming through Dr. Billy Taylor’s now legendary Jazzmobile program. While a student at the New England Conservatory (where both Najee and his brother attended) he studied jazz with George Russell and Jaki Byard. When he finished school Najee returned to New York in the early 80s and was lucky to land a gig with Chaka Khan along with his brother and guitarist Fareed (who is now his manager). In 1987 Najee's Theme, was released and the saxophonist earned a slot on tour with singer Freddie Jackson. The following year, Day By Day was released, and in 1991, Tokyo Blue, which is one of Najee’s most successful and enduring recordings. Tokyo Blue (which was produced by Najee’s brother Fareed) and Day By Day both went Gold and led to two Soul Train Awards for Najee (Best Jazz Artist in 1991 and 1993). Just An Illusion came in 1992 and around this time he collaborated with such iconic figures as Quincy Jones and a collaboration with jazz greats Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham and Larry Carlton resulted in the album Live At The Greek. Share My World came in 1994 and was followed in 1995 by a critically acclaimed tribute to Stevie Wonder's 1976 classic, Songs In The Key Of Life. The CD was produced by George Duke and features Herbie Hancock and Sheila E. among others. His CD Morning Tenderness was released in 1998 went to #1 on the contemporary jazz charts. For Najee, the late ‘90s were marked by extraordinary international experiences, from performing at Nelson Mandela’s birthday celebration in South Africa to playing as a special guest of President Clinton at the White House at an event honoring President Jerry Rawlings of the Republic of Ghana. Najee also spent two years of touring (2001-2003) with Prince and appears on Prince’s albums Rainbow Children and One Night Alone. In 2003 Najee released Embrace featuring special guests Roy Ayers and BeBe Winans. My Point Of View was his follow up in 2005 featuring his good friend and vocalist Will Downing. 2007’s Rising Sun joined Najee with Phil Perry and Mind Over Matter from 2009 paired Najee with singer Eric BenĂ©t.
“When my fans hear The Smooth Side Of Soul,” concludes Najee, “I am hoping it will be a fun and uplifting experience for them and they will want to join me at one of my upcoming live shows to support this music. I had a lot of fun recording this project and I hope the audience will have just as much fun listening.

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