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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.

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