Review – ‘Center of the Heart’ by Najee

November 15, 2019

Najee is back with his 18th studio recording. It is called Center Of The Heart, and it showcases his usual traits: Technical agility, grace, compositional prowess, unbridled passion and fearless genre bending on ten thrilling tracks.

And you know this....

The album also features some of his friends.  Kenny Lattimore, pianist Greg Manning (Brian McKnight, Deniece Williams, Dave Koz, Jonathan Butler), saxophonist Darren Rahn (Wayman Tisdale, Toby Keith, Dave Koz, Jeff Lorber), and keyboardist/producer Demonte Posey (Eric Benet, Babyface, Toni Braxton).

Najee mixes it up as usual, as he plays soprano, flute, tenor and alto through eight originals and two interesting remakes.

Let's get into it!

Review - 'Center of the Heart' by Najee

The set begins with a groovy track called Bella Vista. This is an all out jam session. Najee dazzles with the flute, and the piano part is right there with him.  Vocalist/musician Grecco Buratto fills in nicely to add a Brazilian flair to the mix. Clocking in at a little over five minutes, Bella Vista definitely has some meat on the bone.

When Darren Rahn is involved, you know the result will be funky. Face to Face features Rahn on production, and he also plays the sax on the track. Najee is back on the flute, and they take turns showcasing their talents. The bassline leads the groove and this is just an all out party jam!

The two remakes come up next. First is Maxwell's juicy track Sumthin' Sumthin'. This has always been my favorite on the Urban Hang Suite. The vocal arrangement on the original actually lends itself well for an instrumental version. In addition to Najee's sax, you get Greg Manning on the keys and Eric Valentine on drums. You gotta love the total breakdown on the change (If it's cool, I wanna rock with you). That was a very nice unexpected surprise. I had to run that part back a few times to get the full effect!

The second remake is the classic song Alfie. This is the Burt Bacharach song made famous by the legendary Dionne Warwick. Najee is back on the flute, and it sounds really nice over the Orchestral strings. This is a track that should be on your "all wine" soundtrack! 

Just make sure it is a Merlot.

Better is up next. The track features the vocal stylings of Kenny Lattimore. This is a song that you can play during any occasion. Najee is really on point with the sax play. Lattimore's voice is one that you can listen to all day long. This is some grown folks music right here.

Next is The Way She Moves. The aforementioned Greg Manning handles the production on this track. The sax is smooth, Manning's piano licks are tight and I love the subtle backing vocals on the hook. Make sure you pay attention to the drums towards the end of the song.

Can we add this track to the smooth grooves hall of fame?

In One Note Love, Najee went ahead and flipped it on us. We get some Spoken Word from Superb Clawson and some background from Harmoni Clawson. You sprinkle a little vocoder in there and you get a track with so much style that I feel I need to wear a tux just to listen to it. Najee is just riding the groove, and on a slight technical note, I am loving the sound of the snare drum.

The pace picks up a little with Speak Love. This is a true Najee showcase, and all of his fans will like this track.

In the title track, Center of the Heart, we get a true slow jam. In addition to the tenor sax, we get a nice dose of the bass synth, which adds a little grit to the song. Blair Bryant also adds some superb bass action which rounds out the track.

The set ends with the aptly titled Tonight We Say Goodbye. Behind the alto sax we get a nice rhythm guitar. You throw in that smooth bassline and the vibe will remind you of a late 70's downtempo funk jam. Some Earth Wind and Fire or Bobby Caldwell. I cannot think of a better way to end the album.

Najee is a true legend in the music biz, and he has been cranking out great music since 1987. You can just add Center of the Heart to the list of classic albums from the veteran horn player. Be sure to check him out live when he comes to a city near you.

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