What in the world prompted keyboardist Bob James to title his new album "Joy Ride"? Its leisurely pace? Its familiar course? Its absence of tension, drama or excitement? Anyone with a low tolerance for smooth jazz could be forgiven for thinking the album title was inspired by all those trips to the bank James makes after producing another innocuous, radio-tailored album.

An accomplished musician and composer with an impressive list of jazz credits, James has emerged in the past decade as one of the leading exponents of smooth jazz. He's achieved this status on two levels, as a solo performer and as a member of the popular ensemble Fourplay, and appears to truly revel in the music's predictable pulses and glossy textures.

"Joy Ride" (Warner Bros.) does mark something of a departure for James. He contributes only one tune to the album--the title track--and teams up with several well-known producers and musicians. The latter group includes former Fourplay guitarist Lee Ritenour, who's responsible for the streamlined blues solo on the album's title track, which is about as passionate as "Joy Ride" gets. Saxophonists Boney James and Kim Waters capably illuminate the melodies on "Take Me There" and "Raise the Roof," while bassist-guitarist-composer Richard Bona caps the album with the exotic tones of "Bisso Baba." Yet even that refreshing arrangement is marred by the same numbing backbeat that makes most of the music on "Joy Ride" sound, well, joyless.

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8175.)

Joe Sample: 'The Song Lives On'

"The Song Lives On" (GRP), the new album by Joe Sample, finds the veteran jazz keyboardist collaborating with singer Lalah Hathaway on seven tracks, including a sultry soul-jazz update of the Peggy Lee hit "Fever" and a similarly poised reprise of "When the World Turns Blue."

Sample responds to Hathaway's interpretations quietly, with a spacious and sensitive touch, then rounds out the album with a series of instrumentals that often cast their own reflective spell. Hathaway will open for Bob James Thursday at the Warner Theatre.

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8176.)