Nate Najar

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Everything about this album screams 1950s -- the title, the skinny-ties-and-moonlight cover art, the vibraphone, the gently finger-popping tempos, the decorously swinging melodies. That's guitarist and composer Nate Najar's bag, and bless him for it; it's great to have someone on the scene this happily and unapologetically devoted to a period in jazz when audience-pleasing smoothness blended so seamlessly with virtuosic chops and compositional elegance. And as fine a guitarist as Najar is, it's his compositions that really set him apart from the pack -- the contrapuntally complex "Two Lines for Carl," the gently regretful "Party," the coolly strutting "Blues After Dark." His arrangement of "On the Trail," from Ferdinand Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite, is a deft and humorous touch, and his rendition of Barney Kessel's "Twilight in Acapulco" (complete with marimba, courtesy of Sam Koppelman) provides a surprisingly affecting moment. And then there's the guitar playing, which is never less than sharply inventive, sweetly melodic, and warmly inviting. Very highly recommended.

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