Bob James

Joy Ride

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This keyboardist was putting the "smooth" into "jazz" long before there was a format by that name. Since the mid-70s, Bob James has been one of instrumental music's most consistent purveyors of tunes that hover in the gray area between lighthearted pop and more sophisticated jazz textures. James' approach here is a little like his contribution to the supergroup Fourplay -- rather than dominate, he's content to jam and be one of the guys. Though his solos stand out, it's almost as if he's a hired gun on a project featuring the best and brightest of this second generation of smooth jazzers. He's farmed out the production tasks to some top studio guys (including musician/artists Paul Brown, Chuck Loeb, Michael Colina, and David McMurray. On the lively, shuffling "Take Me There," he bounces around joyously over Loeb's crisp guitar lines and Kim Waters' smart mix of soprano and alto saxes. "Raise the Roof" features James jazzing it up as saxman Boney James (no relation) harmonizes with a soulfully simmering sax line. "Strollin'" finds Chris Botti's trumpet strutting around like an overachieving jazz student eager to impress professor Miles Davis, while Jonathan Butler's breezy acoustic touch spruces up the elegant funk of "Trade Winds" and "Bisso Baba." A little touch of Fourplay is hard to miss too, as Harvey Mason checks in occasionally on drums, Nathan East plays bass on a few cuts, and former guitarist Lee Ritenour jams on the title track.

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