Contemporary Jazz

Time-Tested Groove

25 AUG 09 JONATHAN WIDRAN

The fact that many people working in the smooth jazz genre these days prefer the cooler term "urban contemporary jazz" in describing the vibe just means that superstar saxman/flutist Najee was 20 years ahead of his time. The veteran hitmaker's third Heads Up set Mind Over Matter is as fresh as his million-selling rhythm and jazz landmarks Najee's Theme and Day By Day were back in the late-'80s when he was setting the grooving pace.

The title of the new collection was inspired by the loose, improvisational approach to songwriting that Miles Davis took in his later years, creating melodies off grooves by young cats like Marcus Miller. After touring with Prince for a few years in the early 2000s, Najee's staying fresh on the recording end these days by collaborating with big guns like three-time Grammy-nominated R&B great Eric Benet (on the old school romance "We Gone Ride") and Jeff Lorber, who joins the saxman in the studio for the first time for the bubbly easy funk ballad "Stolen Glances" and lush, dreamy "One More Thing."

Just as impressively, Najee vibes beautifully with two up-and-coming artists who blaze exciting trails behind the scenes here: composer/producer/saxman Darren Rahn (who co-wrote and plays multiple instruments on the seductive, soaring "Sweet Summer Nights") and keyboardist Will Brock, who co-wrote the jazzy, percussive title track with Najee and lays down an off the hook piano solo. Like Miles, Najee is a veteran who knows when it's cool to share the spotlight.

in this playlist.