Around 1986, my family got it’s first CD player. For those of you who are under 30, allow me to explain that ‘CD’ stands for ‘compact disc’, which is an ancient medium used by past generations to listen to music. You had to pay for them with money in a physical store, fending off dinosaurs on the way home 😉
This allowed us to take a giant leap into the digital age. I was a hard-core jazz snob at that point in my life, but these music clubs didn’t carry much in the way of Miles Davis or John Coltrane. What little jazz they did carry skewed towards smooth jazz. So one of the first CDs I got was Najee’s Theme by Najee:
I probably listened to it once and never gave it a second thought. I heard the reverb, synth pads, and drum machines and figured that this guy wasn’t a serious player who had anything to offer me.
Fast forward 30 years, and I’m working my way through Prince’s “One Night Alone – Live” box set. I hear Prince call out the name Najee and then I’m treated to a solo by an alto player with some serious high chops. I do some research…same Najee!
I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that Candy and Najee split duties in the NPG horn section based on who was available any given night. They both seem to fill the same role in the section. Regardless, I have a new respect for the guy, although in all fairness to him, I had no reason to dis-respect him before aside from my own ignorance!
“1+1+1 is 3” is straight up funk jam. If you dropped the needle on it, you’d think it was a James Brown record. Najee comes out swinging in the first bar with a clear, pure, three-note altissimo motif. He plays that same riff ten times in his sixteen bar solo, twisting it around and playing with the time, but he nails it every time. The only thing I can fault him for is that his high A is a little sharp.
That just shows how strong his high chops are. It’s one thing to pull out that lick once or twice, but he really commits to it. You don’t do that unless you know that you can nail it a thousand times in a row, not just ten. I practiced it for about an hour over two practice sessions over two different days and my lip is still sore a day or two later!
The rest of the solo is pretty straightforward – some blues licks and a cool four-bar stop time section where Najee lays down some bop-like runs.