Guitarist Nate Najar never met the late jazz legend Charlie Byrd, but there’s no mistaking their strong spiritual connection. It’s almost palpable on Blues for Night People, Najar’s 2012 trio tribute to Byrd, and it remains evident throughout this more colorfully expansive session featuring trumpeter James Suggs, bassist John Lamb and drummer Matt Home.
Even if Najar didn’t play a nylon-string guitar, his touch and repertoire would draw flattering comparisons. Like Byrd, Najar is a sucker for blues, bossas and well-crafted tunes that bridge a variety of jazz, classical and pop tastes. Chick Corea is represented here by three compositions: “500 Miles High,” trumpet-tinted and rhythmically alluring; “Chick’s Tune,” boppishly bright and swinging; and “Crystal Silence,” at once intimate and soulful. Likewise, Antonio Carlos Jobim receives multiple salutes, beginning with a haunting performance of “Insensatez” (“How Insensitive”), which showcases a pair of guests, cellist Ella Fredrickson and drummer Mark Feinman.
In a sentimental mood, Najar turns to a couple of enduring charmers. Trumpeter Suggs, mute in hand, travels alongside him on “Sidewalks of New York,” a delightful jaunt uptown, while Harry Edison’s “Centerpiece” is a stroll in the dark, shaded in blues and punctuated by Suggs’ moaning brass. Besides a little Chopin, rounding out the album is a pair of diverting original tunes. With its R&B tilt, Najar’s “What Would Ola Mae Do?” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Keb’ Mo’ album, while Suggs’ “But Oh, What Love!” qualifies as an unabashedly old-fashioned rhapsody.