Nate Najar, “La Javanaise,” from Under Paris Skies (Woodward Avenue Records)
“Who doesn’t love Paris?” That’s the question guitarist Nate Najar asks in the publicity notes for his latest album, Under Paris Skies, a touching ode to the City of Lights featuring innovative arrangements of French pop classics from the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and beyond. The songs — by artists such as France Gall, Django Reinhardt, Hubert Giraud, Gabriel Fauré and others— are rarely covered by contemporary American artists, and it’s exciting to hear Najar and his bandmates (Tommy Cecil on bass, Matt Home on drums and guest artist Chuck Redd on vibes) revivify them with equal parts passion and precision.
The album highlight “La Javanaise” best exemplifies Najar’s approach. The tune was originally written by iconic French pop artist Serge Gainsbourg in the 1960s as a chanson-style waltz. But in Najar’s hands, it is cloaked with the rhythms of the Caribbean, taking on shades of calypso, bossa nova and New Orleans second-line jazz (pay special attention to the quote of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” during Cecil’s bass solo). Najar, who is often compared to his idol, Charlie Byrd, plays with a deft touch and loads of feeling. His warm energy extends to the album as a whole. You’ll be happy to spend an afternoon with it.