Najee - The Smooth Side of Soul (2012)

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Flirty flute-playing, kinetic keyboard flourishes and, of course, those synergistic, scintillating runs with the sax: thanks to his expertise in composition and musical instrument multi-tasking, Najee has retained his place amongst his peers as one of today's most popular and prolific jazz instrumentalists. And just like he's done since his eponymous 1987 debut, Najee's Theme, the native New Yorker has created a tantalizing tapestry of urbanized, funk-laced and energetic offerings for his fourteenth CD, The Smooth Side of Soul.

Flirty flute-playing, kinetic keyboard flourishes and, of course, those synergistic, scintillating runs with the sax: thanks to his expertise in composition and musical instrument multi-tasking, Najee has retained his place amongst his peers as one of today's most popular and prolific jazz instrumentalists. And just like he's done since his eponymous 1987 debut, Najee's Theme, the native New Yorker has created a tantalizing tapestry of urbanized, funk-laced and energetic offerings for his fourteenth CD, The Smooth Side of Soul.

Remember that cool-as-ice Billy Dee Williams Colt 45 Liquor commercial from back in the day, where he pops his collar, smirks into the camera, tips his hat and says 'don't let the smooth taste fool you'? Well, the same goes for the title of this CD, because the disc crackles with energy from beginning to end: "Just To Fall In Love," featuring crooner Phil Perry, will earworm its way into your memory and make you want to bum rush the dance floor: with its throbbing undercurrents, flute flourishes and Mr. Perry's upbeat take on the flirtatious lyrics, it's a certified smash.  So is the mid-tempo "You Tube," its sweet with slinky edges implying searches and surfing of a sexier kind. The sax-anchored "One Night In Soho" is another giddy groove, featuring a lot of buoyant bass, celestial cymbals with a smattering of hip-hop scratch to guide it along. "Fu Fu She She," a collaboration with "Chris "Big Dog" Davis, is another foot-tapping, shoulder-shaking joint, as is the shuffling and soulful "Perfect Nites."  

As fans and followers already know, Najee can also slow it down and make it sultry like no other, gliding into the exotic and airy "Mari," and joining forces with another musician extraordinaire, Jeff Lorber, on the plush and polished "First Kiss." His take on "In the Clouds" is as billowy and expansive as the title suggests, and he then plunges into the more traditional side of jazz with the bold and brassy closing number, "Sound For Sore Ears."

Najee's latest reestablishes his reign as modern jazz royalty and is another enjoyable addition to his considerable catalog. The Smooth Side of Soul simmers with heat and does everything except serve up a rote recycling of by-the-numbers boring jams. Highly Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
Choice Cut - Maysa - "Lovin' You Is Easy"

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