Saxophonist Najee has been a major figure in smooth jazz right from the get-go with his debut Najee’s Theme (1986), which came out smack dab in the middle of the genre’s emergence into a popular music style onto its own. I always thought of Najee as being more on the instrumental RnB side of smooth jazz, like his contemporary George Howard. More to the point, Najee has been something like an instrumental version of Earth, Wind & Fire, an association seemingly confirmed by his covering EWF tunes on his first two albums. (He later made a Stevie Wonder tribute album, another one of his major influences).
Tomorrow Najee will issue his — what, 13th? — album, and second one by the Shanachie Entertainment label. The Morning After, A Musical Love Journey is themed after a romantic adventure, but the album is vintage Najee through and through. Including incorporating that Earth, Wind and Fire sound.
“Champs Élysées,” with its mid-tempo strut and jazzy chord progression can even be thought of as a cousin to a song off of EWF’s brand new Now, Then and Forever album, “Love Is Law.” In place of sleek vocals is Najee’s sleek tenor, firing off the thematic lines and accentuated a bit with harmony saxes.
I dunno if there’s anything French about the song that lives up to the title except that like that famed Paris boulevard, “Champs Élysées” is a pleasant spot to be in, listening-wise.
The Morning After, A Musical Love Journey drops on October 22, by Shanachie Entertainment.