Najee--Mind Over Matter 

This latest from veteran saxophonist Najee is pure Najee with new motivation and vision. Mind Over Matter, the CD’s title (a title inspired by the late Miles Davis’ improvisational approach to songwriting toward the end of his career) and focuses on the feel  and groove of the music as opposed to the usual mechanics of it all (phrasings, harmony and melody balancing, etc.). This is an at-its-core production that simply goes with the flow, and what a flow it is. Najee’s inherently polished skills in both musicianship and songsmithing remain clearly intact and devoid of the ho-hum of some jazz that’s rushed through just to keep the bills paid.

The album is full of freshness and evidence of the serious yet fun experience that Najee brings with him to the studio with each recording. The opening track, a mid-tempo light yet funky and smoky piece, is flavorful and catchy. The second track, co-written by newly highlighted saxman/writer Darren Rahn, has the hook, rhythm, and melody that fit Najee like a glove. Then, there’s the title cut, a groove-rich tune with a pinch of spicy funk and a lot of that smooth jazz rhythm we’ve all come to know and love. This one not only features some really well-done sax runs by Najee but some sharp keyboard action from co-writer Will Brock.

A cool horn arrangement and the suave vocals of Eric Benet do the trick for the slinky and soulful “We Gone Ride,” then it’s back on the dance floor with the moving “Stolen Glances,” a piece written by the iconic composer/keyboardist Jeff Lorber. One listen and you can’t help discerning that the veteran keys wizard had his hands all over this one, as his flair for that mid-tempo pausing kind of funk seeps through unambiguously. Of course, Najee’s sax does wonders with this fine collaboration. The same thing holds true with the other piece on which these two collaborated, “One More Thing.” As its finale, the album escorts in the fine, smooth vocals of Gary Taylor to complement the soul-stirring sax work from Najee with a mellow R&Bish nod in “Moon Over Carolina.”

And so it goes throughout the album. Once again, Najee proves why he’s lasted so long in this business of smooth. Placing mind over matter does work as is evidenced on this hefty project. -- Ronald Jackson