Listeners to decent soul stations will be familiar with a lovely new tune… ‘Better’, a luscious collaboration between sax maestro NAJEE and smooth soul man Kenny Latimore. ‘Better’ has been winning regular plays all over the place and the good news is that the parent album, Najee’s ‘Centre Of The Heart’ has just been released on Shanachie Records.

The ten tracker is Najee’s 18th long player as leader and his multitude of fans will be delighted with its content… it’s classic Najee, stuffed with classy smooth jazz grooves – many with a real soul undertow – like ‘Speak Love’ and ‘Face To Face’ which features guest input from saxophonist Darren Rahn. The soul crowd will also love the cover of Maxwell’s ‘Sumthin’ Sumthin’ which is given a big treatment – Najee’s sax riding sweetly over the cooed chorus. The album’s other big cover is yet another version of Burt Bacharach’s ‘Alfie’. In my I tunes library I’ve got just over 30 versions of ‘Alfie’… but it’s such a great tune (Bacharach’s own favourite, by the way) I never tire of it and this new take is up there with the best. Running in at over 6 minutes, it’s cinematically lush and sweetly evocative. The album’s other big quiet storm moment is ‘Tonight We Say Goodbye’ … the title indicates the mood. Then there’s the spoken word piece ‘One Note’. With input from Rod Bonner and Superb Clawson, it will recall those great, old school Guru ‘Jazzmatazz’ albums. It brings real variety to a very welcome return from Najee.