Sax and flute player Najee has been one of the most influential figures in contemporary jazz for the past thirty or so years. Well known for his classy virtuosity, 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 long player 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 ten more releases plus one ‘best of’ collection and has garnered four ‘gold discs’ along the way. Now he is back with his latest offering, ‘Poetry In Motion’, that was released August 25 on the Shanachie label.
Unsurprising for an artist who has variously worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and George Duke, ‘Poetry In Motion’ includes some genre defining collaborations. Indeed with Will Downing, Maysa, Eric Roberson, Bluey of Incognito, Bobby Lyle, Blake Aaron and Randy Bowland all on board the credits read like a proverbial ‘who’s who’ of musical A-Listers.
Not only that, the legendary Barry Eastmond lends his keyboard and writing skills to several of the tracks. The first of these is the groove drenched ‘Stratosphere’ that provides a timely reminder of how Najee’s playing has served to define contemporary jazz. Another Najee Eastmond composition comes in the form of the smoothly soulful ‘Is It The Way’ that provides a fine showcase for up and coming vocalist Eric Robertson and talking of soul the unmistakable tones of the one and only Will Downing elevates the sultry ‘We’ll Be Missing You’ to another level.
Much the same can be said of the sensational ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’ which, as well as being an outstanding track in an album crammed full of them, also includes the sensational singing voice of the always superb Maysa. Her interplay with Najee’s soaring sax is breathtaking and when he teams with label mate Bluey Maunick (of Incognito fame) the result is the appropriately named ‘Let’s Take It Back’ that with impeccable old school credentials is guaranteed to enliven even the most tired of dancing feet. Another tune tailor made for stepping out is the foot tapping ‘Song For The Ladies’ while elsewhere his partnering with guitarist Blake Aaron delivers ‘Running Away’ which, in every respect is a tasty slice of textbook smooth jazz.
Aaron also lends a hand with intoxicatingly Latin ‘Noche Romantica’ and when Najee switches to flute for the rhythmic yet jazz title cut he is assisted in no small part by a sumptuous piano solo from Bobby Lyle. In fact Najee stays with flute to close out ‘Poetry In Motion’ with the delightfully zesty ‘Dualology’ that gives a further nod to his impeccable jazz credentials and confirm that here, thirty years on, Najee remains at the very top of his game.