This is Nate Najar
In an industry that likes to conveniently pigeonhole even its most adventurous artists, Nate Najar has stood out with his full embrace of the great possibilities of jazz. Inspiring growing numbers of fans with his distinctive approach of playing jazz on the acoustic classical guitar with right hand classical technique, the multi-faceted composer and performer has performed hundreds of trio dates throughout the U.S. and Europe, scored a Top Ten Billboard Jazz single with Melba Moore (“Groove Me”) and recorded tribute projects to his idol Charlie Byrd and the music of Brazil. On the perfectly titled This is Nate Najar, he expands his repertoire further with a dynamic quartet driven collection featuring his unamplified guitar, legendary Duke Ellington bassist John Lamb, UK drummer Matt Home and trumpeter James Suggs.
Najar’s original idea for an album title, “In This Moment,” captures many of the important elements of this extraordinary project. Najar was excited about recording for the first time with the ensemble of Home (the drummer he uses when he performs in the UK), his longtime friend Lamb and Suggs, an Ohio native who recently returned to the U.S. after many years in South America. Rather than beginning with some grand concept, the guitarist simply thought it would be fun to go into the studio and cut a few tunes.
His manager, Ron Moss, was so intrigued by the lineup that he suggested Najar and his cohorts do a full album. They recorded it in a single afternoon, banking every track in one or two takes. “I originally thought of calling it ‘In This Moment’ because it reflects where I am and where my music is at this particular time. When you go in to make a jazz album you aren’t worried about creating it for a specific format, you can make the record that you want to make in that moment. The set has songs that reflect all of my influences – jazz, classical, bossa nova, samba, swing and blues. The material reflects important parts of what I am into doing as an artist. I love drama in music, creating and sustaining a mood – all while bringing the audience with you.”
Reflecting on the unique selections on the ten track collection, Najar adds, “I picked some tunes I thought would be fun to play together, some I had been wanting to play and a few things I always play when I perform live. You don’t normally pair an acoustic guitar with a trumpet because they’re at extreme ends of the dynamic spectrum, and this creates a fresh approach throughout. It wasn’t James Suggs’ trumpet I wanted on these songs. It was James Suggs.”
Najar bookends the set with his group’s fresh spin on two early 70’s classics from Chick Corea, a breezy and soulful swinging samba spin on “500 Miles High” (featuring lead melody switch-offs by Suggs’ trumpet and Najar’s spirited and snappy guitar) and a moody, ambient solo guitar meditation on “Crystal Silence.” The quartet also brings a vibrant, high energy jazz fusion vibe to another early Corea piece, “Chick’s Tune” (originally recorded on Blue Mitchell’s 1964 set The Thing To Do).
Testament to the stylistic range the album covers, Najar draws on his long-held passion for Brazilian music (which he explored on his 2014 Candid Records release Aquarela Do Brasil) on two Antonio Carlos Jobim tunes – a haunting, chamber music flavored twist on “Insensatez (How Insensitive)” (featuring Ella Frederickson’s haunting cello) and a sassy and sensual “O Morro Nao Tem Vez (Favela).” As he does in live performances, he prefaces “Insensatez” with a lush solo guitar take on Chopin’s “ Prelude in E Minor” (op. 28 no. 4). Najar’s desire to do a straight up blues led him and his quartet to stroll slyly through the infectious mystery of Harry Edison’s “Centerpiece,” while the 19th Century piece “Sidewalks Of New York” offered a freewheeling opportunity for them to let loose and jam. The two lone originals on This is Nate Najar are the guitarist’s longtime live staple, the whimsical, folk-blues driven “What Would Ola Mae Do?” and Suggs’ lush ballad “But Oh, What Love,” which features a beautiful flugelhorn melody caressed by Najar’s gentle string harmonies.
A St. Petersburg, FL native who began playing guitar at age eight and considers Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery and Charlie Byrd his primary influences, Najar’s two previous full length recordings on Candid Records – including 2012’s Blues For Night People: The Nate Najar Trio Remembers Charlie Byrd – earned him accolades from critics and influential jazz voices alike. Rick Anderson of All Music Guide called Najar “one of the most consistently interesting and stylish young guitarists on the jazz scene.” Becky Byrd, wife of the late guitarist Charlie Byrd, said, “There is no doubt that there is a piece of Charlie’s soul in Nate’s mind, heart and fingers. Get ready, world, here comes Nate Najar!”