Often considered the soulful equivalent to Kenny G., Najee brewed his own special blend of R&B-based smooth jazz that steamed up the charts beginning with his 1986 debut disc, Najee's Theme; and like his pop counterpart, he garnered little respect from critics or jazz aficionados, who looked upon his music and success with disdain. This attitude, somewhat warranted due to the subgenre's polished sounds, often prevented jazz elitists from recognizing the actual talent and musicianship behind the glossy façade. One only has to listen to Classic Masters to realize that Najee does indeed have the goods even within the confines of the musical style he has helped to popularize. His playing throughout this collection of 12 key tracks is soulful and steady, if a bit restrained. Najee is at his best on self-penned instrumental songs like "Noah's Ark," in which he and his fellow musicians sound relaxed and a bit more improvisational, allowing the jazzier side of the music to shine through. His remake of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" confirms he can successfully transform a hit pop/R&B song into a classy instrumental, something he was not able to do earlier in his career with Anita Baker's "Sweet Love," where the static production and nondescript background voices distract from Najee's tasteful melodic passages. Set in chronological order, the collection demonstrates that Najee's music did improve from his "Sweet Love" days even though he never strayed too far from his hitmaking formula. For those who are just beginning to discover him, Classic Masters provides a proper overview of Najee, his music, and the genuine talent that led him to become one of the genre's leading instrumentalists.
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AllMusic Review by Aaron Latham
feat: Freddie Jackson