Pioneer of the “rhythm and jazz” movement of the late ‘80s and ‘90s Saxophonist Najee takes inspiration from Miles Davis’ loose and improvisational approach to songwriting in the August 2009 release of Mind Over Matter. The two-time Grammy nominee and Soul Train Award Winner finds the groove with a blend of neo-soul, R&B, and contemporary jazz with help from friends Eric Benét and Jeff Lorber. Jazz with Najee at the INDIANAPOLIS JAZZ FESTIVAL – Saturday, September 18th. Stage time is 8:45pm. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 at the gate. The Festival is located at Opti Park, 820 East 67th Street, in Indianapolis. For tickets call 317-966-7854.
Sometimes making music is all about the mechanics – balancing the melody with the harmony and the rhythm, making sure the tempo is right from the beginning of the song to the end, matching the right vocalist to the story within the lyrics, knowing when to come in with the solos and when to hang back…the litany of technical details to consider in crafting a piece of good music can be endless. But sometimes the process is much more intuitive and effortless. Sometimes the right groove emerges on its own.
That intuitive approach is at the heart of Mind Over Matter, the new recording by saxophonist Najee released August 25, 2009, on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group. In addition to Najee’s fine balance of songcraft and musicianship, the album also includes songwriting and guest appearances by keyboardist Jeff Lorber and vocalists Eric Benét and Gary Taylor.
The album title, says Najee, is inspired by Miles Davis’ approach to songwriting. “In his later years, he took a very loose and improvisational approach,” he says. “He would start with nothing more than a groove that Marcus Miller or some other member of his band would lay down. And from there he would just develop these melodies that were very simple but at the same time very compelling and very memorable. It was a creative process that bypassed the nuts and bolts of the song and just got right to the essence of it.”
It’s not hard to find the groove in Mind Over Matter. It’s evident from the opening bars of the midtempo “Love You a Lifetime,” a song that positions Najee’s smoky sax lines alongside the solid horn arrangements charted by fellow saxophonist Will Holton (who also shares the writing credit with Najee on the track).
The upbeat followup track, “Sweet Summer Nights,” is co-written by Najee and Darren Rahn, “one of the most under-utilized songwriters in this genre,” according to Najee. Equally upbeat and breezy is the title track, a composition that showcases not only Najee’s ability to build a sophisticated solo on a simple riff, but also the engaging solo work of keyboardist and track co-writer Will Brock.
Eric Benét provides some whimsical and suggestive vocals on “We Gone Ride,” a track that balances his distinctive voice with the work of a carefully layered horn section. “The Journey,” co-written by Najee and pianist Darryl Woodson, is a gentle, introspective piece that sets up a softer dimension to the overall recording.
Jeff Lorber lends a hand with writing/producing and keyboards on the playful “Stolen Glances” and the insistent “One More Thing.” Although they’ve shared numerous festival dates in recent years, Mind Over Matter was the first opportunity for Najee and Lorber to collaborate in the studio.
Laid back and easygoing, “Moon Over Carolina” closes the set with mellow vocals by Gary Taylor – who also provides all instrumentation aside from Najee’s saxophone work.
Mind Over Matter adds another layer of sophistication and polish to Najee’s substantial and diverse body of work. “Whenever I go into the studio, I try to make a record that’s a little different from the last one,” he says. “I want people to get the same Najee that they’re familiar and comfortable with, but at the same time, I want them to hear something fresh, something interesting, something unpredictable.”