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Najee: You. Me and Forever

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Even during smooth-jazz’s ’80s and ’90s commerical peak, Najee’s skills as an improviser allowed him to rise above the pack. Those chops are on strong display on You, Me and Forever, his 16th original release as leader, and the saxophonist/flutist’s sheer prowess helps the program overcome its sometimes pedestrian composing.

The album crests with the opening track, the New Age-inflected “Air,” Najee’s lyrically energetic flute borne aloft by RaShawn Northington’s punchy electric bass and a sharp piano solo from Rod Bonner. “Fly With the Wind,” with Najee on tenor sax, boasts an earworm of a melodic line, and the flute gets another showcase on a vaporous reading of the Jobim standard “Wave.” Guest vocalist Chuck Johnson’s graceful passion ignites standout track “Biggest Part of Me,” and the somberly beautiful “Butterfly Girl” entwines Najee’s flute with Dean Mark’s crystalline acoustic guitar to heartwarming effect.

But a number of tunes, particularly in the back half, are not as memorable. “Signature” features authoritative tenor from Najee but under-mixes guest vocalist Frank McComb, never allowing him to take ownership of the song as he should. Another vocal guest, Andrea Wallace, boasts a pleasingly breathy tone, but “Give It All We’ve Got” doesn’t give her distinctive enough lyrics for the track to make an impression. Likewise, both “Spectrum” and the title track are well performed and pretty, yet they evaporate from the mind as they’re playing. Fortunately, the disc ends on a high with “Jannah.” Acoustic bassist Seth Lee joins Pieces of a Dream’s James Lloyd, on acoustic piano, to lay down slick patterns over which Najee, on soprano sax, busts out his most inventive improvisations of the album. Not all of You, Me and Forever deserves to last, but its best tracks cement Najee’s stance as one of smooth’s integral artists.

Originally Published