Najee is the doyen of smooth jazz. He’s been around that long, collaborated with so many “names” and achieved so much that we maybe tend to take him for granted. But he’ still making music and adamant that what inspires him now is what inspired him when he was a journeyman player…. the sheer enjoyment of making the kind of music that he loves. And that pleasure is plainly manifest in this, his latest album on the ever-dependable Shanachie label.
‘You, Me And Forever’ contains all the elements that have made the New York City born reeds man what he is today. Here there are plenty of soul based smooth jazz grooves, a modern soul vocal or two, a cover of a cherished classic, some potential Quiet Storm moments and some of those flute led MOR items that have won and lost Najee admirers in almost equal amounts. And indeed the album begins with one of those blander moments. ‘Air’, flute-led, is a lightweight opening but Najee redeems himself with the second tune…. Alex Bugnon’s ‘Fly With The Wind’ – a classic slab of proper smooth jazz riding on a great soul groove. And if you want more soul then go straight to the album’s vocals…. ‘Biggest Part Of Me’ and ‘Give It All We Got’. The former is a kind of tune that Luther Vandross could have crafted… slinky and tight, longtime Najee collaborator Chuck Johnson does a great job at the mic. The second, with Andrea Wallace on lead vocals, is little lighter and may make older soul folk think of people like Phyllis Hyman. The album’s third big vocal features cult soul/jazz hero Frank McComb. ‘Signature’ though isn’t a full on vocal. Frank just adds his cooing to the chorus of his own tune while Najee blows effortlessly.
The long player’s big cover is a respectful version of Jobim’s ‘Wave’. Robert Damper takes the acoustic piano part and here Najee’s flute sounds just right. Antonio Carlos would have been proud! It’s an album highlight and, yes, very Middle Of The Road but on the album’s last two cuts… ‘Spectrum’ and ‘Jannah’ Najee shows that he can fly more freely. The latter, featuring Pieces Of A Dream’s James Lloyd, is particularly ambitious.