Critically-acclaimed saxman Najee has just released his first CD in 5 years. Recently he completed a gig as special guest artist on Prince's Hit & Run tour. These experiences and other moments garnered with notable artists (ie.Quincy Jones, Chaka Khan, George Duke and the list goes on…) have formed what he describes as 'life defining moments'. Co-produced with brother Fareed, Najee celebrates these musical and personal exchanges and shares them with us on his latest release, Embrace.
The opening songs "Embrace" and "Eye 2 Eye" (both penned by Najee) reflect a serene and melodic mood. The title track featuring Najee on all instruments, is perfectly named 'cause you can feel the love! Both songs highlight his soprano sax (a difficult instrument to pitch and he makes it sound so easy!). James Lloyd (Pieces of a Dream) guests on the later tune.
He funks it up on alto sax with "Sunshine Sometimes Rain"; while some hip, techno-vocals by Robyn Springer are a fun addition. Another mid-tempo, urban jam that I'm enjoyin'; is "Mali's Bounce". This song dedicated to his son Jamal, features Jamal's voice along with dad's gritty alto sax intro.
"La Smooth" has that "Mr. Magic" vibe and is a loving tribute to the late, great Grover Washington, Jr. This groovin' tune also features great guitar work by JK. The whole combination works and I think Grover would be pleased! Another musical mentor, Roy Ayers, is showcased on the tune written especially with him in mind, "Vibin' w/Ayers". This outstanding number highlights some great jazz improv on sax and vibes. What a treat!
"Believe", a beautiful song with a hopeful and spiritual melody is the perfect lead into the next tune, "Someone Watching Over You". Featuring the legendary gospel singer Bebe Winans; this is a showstopper! It's got a gorgeous blend of jazz and the R&B sound.
The final three songs include "Peruvian Sunset", a song done in more of the traditional jazz style. Najee shows what a versatile artist he is as he serenades us on flute. Moe Daniels (keyboards), Fareed (acoustic guitar), Greg Philips (drums) and Kevin Walker (bass) bring a fresh and inviting feeling to this tune. He then slows it down with the tender song "Before Dawn". I particularly like how each instrument is allowed to express itself in an uncomplicated and honest way. He takes it right down to the voices of soprano sax, acoustic guitar, bass and percussion. Najee concludes this record in collaboration with percussionist Pete Escovedo (Sheila E's dad) on a gorgeous tune called "Movimientos". Just flute and percussion, it's a lovely illustration of improvisation!
Combining contemporary and traditional jazz elements with an R&B flavor, Najee's Embrace is warm and sustaining. Get ready to exhale!
-D.J. Fazio (All Music Guide)