Under Paris Skies
Nate Najar has enthralled audiences across the globe with his trademark and distinctive style of performing jazz on acoustic classical guitar. Continuing on his freewheeling journey as a true musical citizen of the world, he follows the release of his acclaimed 2016 album This is Nate Najar with a warm, soulful, multi-faceted recording reflecting his enduring love for the City of Lights, entitled Under Paris Skies, Set for release on Sept. 7, 2018, on Woodward Avenue Records, the 11-track collection explores Najar’s passion for French jazz and pop with a deeper commitment and purpose than ever before and showcases the “rabbit hole” of research he did to curate a unique eclectic variety of pop, jazz and classical songs rarely re-imagined by American jazz artists.
While a deliberate departure from the jam session vibe and stylistically diverse nature of This is Nate Najar (2016)) the new album harkens back to his theme-driven earlier projects, Aquarela Do Brasil (2014) and Blues For Night People: The Nate Najar Trio Remembers Charlie Byrd (2012). Under Paris Skies is also a dynamic showcase of the trio’s latest lineup (featuring Washington, DC bassist Tommy Cecil and UK drummer Matt Home) and Najar’s work on his beloved Ramirez guitar, which previously belonged to Charlie Byrd. Longtime collaborators of the guitarist, Cecil and Home toured with Najar throughout 2017. “We’re a solid unit, and it felt like the right one to record the new album with” the guitarist says. Chuck Redd, who has played drums on many previous Najar projects (including Aquarela Do Brasil) adds his lush vibraphone harmonies and solos to two numbers.
“Who doesn’t love Paris?” Najar asks whimsically. “I don’t know anyone who says they don’t want to go there, and if you’ve been, how could you not want to go back? I have a love affair with France, which is a wonderful, romantic place on every level. There is such a rich cultural history, with so much global influence. Paris has traditionally been the center of many movements in classical music, but there’s also an incredible legacy of pop and jazz music many Americans may not be familiar with.”
One great example is the wonderful singer France Gall. Her song “La Mort Douce,” featuring Najar’s thoughtful acoustic improvisations and the subtle harmonic shadings of Cecil’s bass, kicks off a deeply melodic, rhythmically diverse and improvisation-rich exploratory journey. Najar pays homage to legendary composer Michel Legrand via a brisk, lighthearted swing arrangement of “I Will Wait for You,” from the 1964 film Umbrellas of Cherbourg; Django Reinhardt, via a soulful, percussive romp through “Nuages,” and the iconic Serge Gainsbourg with “La Javanaise,” a waltz that Najar re-imagines with a spirited Caribbean vibe.
Another key stop Najar makes on Under Paris Skies is the moody, reflective title track “Sous le Ciel de Paris,” from the 1951 film of the same name, penned by composer Hubert Giraud. The spirited “Ce Petit Chemin” was originally recorded in the 30’s by the beloved vocalist Mireille. Najar and Cecil engage in a hauntingly hypnotic guitar-bass duet of “Après Un Rêve,” which composer Gabriel Fauré originally wrote for piano and soprano vocal. Redd’s sensual vibes return on the Charles Aznavour ballad “Sa Jeunesse” to join forces with Najar’s strings on an easy flowing romantic adventure.
Uptempo, grooving jazz and swing create the buoyant rhythmic foundation of the playful yet intricately rendered Charles Trenet tune “Que reste-t-il a nos amours?” which became the American standard “I Wish You Love,” a huge hit for Keely Smith in 1958. Najar wraps up the collection with “Chanson du Cœur Brisé,” a slightly melancholy, richly improvisational ballad whose raw emotion is underscored by guitarist’s scrapes on the wood; and the breezy, balmy, Brazilian leaning “La Marseillaise,” which Najar says needs “no real explanation. I tried to imagine how Joao Gilberto would approach it and gave it my best shot.”
Though he waited until more than a decade into his prolific recording career to create an album solely dedicated to the musical spirit of Paris, Najar has long considered Belgian born French legend Django Reinhardt as one of the guitarists who had the greatest impact on his development. The other two are Wes Montgomery and, obvious to anyone who has followed Najar’s career, Charlie Byrd.
His three recordings on Candid Records – including Blues For Night People: The Nate Najar Trio Remembers Charlie Byrd and This Is Nate Najar – earned him accolades from critics and influential jazz voices alike. 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!”