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Bob James: Joy Ride

Even as he reaches the “legendary” stage of his career, the still prolific Bob James continues to find fresh ways to offset his sparkling light-touch, lyrical acoustic piano play. On Joy Ride (Warner Bros. 9 47355-2; 60:43) this means working with a variety of supporting talents, who add splashes of color and intensity to his palate of primaries. The resulting pictures range from the dark-blue, sly “Strollin’,” sparked by Marcel East’s R&B threaded bass work, to the album’s glistening title track which finds James bubbling over with delight on a notey solo, while Lee Ritenour’s guitar lines take flight and Billy Kilson drives ahead on the drums. Even the more ordinary urban-champagne mood tunes, like “It’s Alright” are distinguished by sparse, careful arrangements and stellar guest play (in this case, Norman Brown). However, Joy Ride’s clear showstopper is the warm, romantic “Tradewinds,” featuring fluid, dancing interplay between James and Jonathan Butler on guitar. The lithe tune breaks open into pure joy with Butler’s scatted vocal-a perfect match for James’ lovely light high-register solo.

Originally Published