The pianist/composer/arranger lays claim to ongoing relevance with Expresso, his first studio recording as a leader since 2006’s Urban Flamingo (Koch Records). And it’s a piano trio affair, perhaps the purest and most challenging of instrumental formats, into which he adds his characteristically James-esque spicings.

As always, James’ sound displays a refinement, a polished sophistication and crisp production values. He embellishes, beautifully, the “trio sound” at times with sweet, keyboard orchestrated, post-recording backdrops, much in the mode of the 1970s CTI recording style. And like all of James’ offerings, the sonic concept maintains a first-to-last-cut cohesion.