Track By Track: Najee, “Center of the Heart” Exclusive Album Stream

Multi-platinum and Grammy-nominated saxophonist/flautist Najee returns with a brand new album titled Center of the Heart, featuring collaborations with such artists as Kenny Lattimore, Greg Manning, Demonte Posey and more. The LP, Najee’s 18th as a leader, perfectly showcases his technical agility, grace and compositional prowess.

While the record will officially be released this Friday (November 15) via Shanachie, JAZZIZ is happy to present an exclusive album stream ahead of this date. You can listen to it via the player below. In addition, we asked Najee to tell us a bit about each of the genre-bending tracks on Center of the Heart, to better understand the inspiration behind them and some of the work that went into the making of the album.

“Bella Vista”

This is a great collaboration with one of the most respected Brazilian musicians, Grecco Buratto. It was produced by Demonte Posey and co-written by myself and Demonte.

 

“Face to Face”

In previous years, Darren Rahn and I have occasionally worked together, and he wanted to write a song for my new album. During the recording session in Denver, none of the reeds I had were working properly (which is a frustrating experience for any woodwind player). Nonetheless, as a solution, Darren’s wife asked me to play on her flute and in that instance, I decided to record this song on flute instead of sax. This decision made for a wonderful outcome for the song and a memorable moment with my friend and colleague.

 

“Sumthin’ Sumthin'”

This is one of my favorite songs from Maxwell, so I was thrilled to learn from Greg Manning (producer) that it had not been recorded in-studio by a prominent instrumentalist. I was inspired to record this song and made sure the sound and nuances stayed true to the original version.

 

“Alfie”

This song was partially recorded at Babyface’s studio in Los Angeles with producer Demonte Posey. “Alfie” is a song I heard a lot as a child, and always loved the melody and chord changes. I wanted to do a different rendition of the song – make it more orchestral and be virtuoso on the flute. I wrote the intro and outro so that the chord changes include a contemporary feel.

 

“Better”

I’ve known Kenny Lattimore for many years and we have shared the stage at many concerts. One of the most memorable shows we headlined was in South Africa in the late ’90s. At the time, Nelson Mandela curated a special free concert called “A Gift to the Nation” that was dedicated to the people of South Africa. Over 30,000 people were in attendance. Since that experience, Kenny and I have wanted to make sure we record together. Years later, in 2019, we began working on this track with Demonte. The song embraces the R&B sound that I’m known for since the early days of my career.

 

“The Way She Moves”

This track was written and produced by Greg Manning, who initially was going to use the song for his own project. However, he decided it would be better suited for my new album.

 

“One Note Love”

I like to give the opportunity for younger or new artists to shine, including keyboardist Rod Bonner III, who is a member of my band. Recently, I had a vision to record a song for “One Note Love” and asked Rod to compose it. Therefore, to showcase the dynamic energy Rod brought to the song, I asked my son to provide a few rap verses, alongside my granddaughter, who sings background vocals. The synergy can be felt throughout the song.

 

“Speak Love”

This was the first song that was recorded for the album and it also marks the beginning of my work relationship with Greg Manning, who wrote and produced the track.

 

“Center of the Heart”

Bassist Blair Bryant has been touring with me for a year now. His music has been played on Sirius XM’s “Water Colors,” and he’s considered in-demand by many contemporaries in the industry. He wrote, produced and played all the instruments on this song except sax. When it came time to title the tune, I was inspired by a painting in my home titled “Center of Our Heart,” which influenced the song and album.

 

“Tonight We Say Goodbye”

Demonte Posey composed “Tonight We Say Goodbye” and when I heard it, I immediately thought it would be a good opportunity to showcase the alto sax for a richer sound.




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