Panorama (…includes the National Smooth Jazz Radio #1 Smash Hit Cafe Carnival)
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If metal could sing for joy, it would sound like the guitar music of Craig Chaquico. The former Jefferson Starship lead guitarist brought his unique stylings to center stage on his 1993 debut, Acoustic Highway, and his albums have worn near-permanent notches into the Billboard new age charts since then. What separates Chaquico from other new age guitarists is his effortless exuberance. Rhythms bound down the pike like a kangaroo; on “Return of the Eagle,” Chaquico’s soaring tones evoke the free-flying strings on a dancing kite. His Native American-inspired pieces — “Native Tongue,” “Sacred Ground,” and “Gathering of the Tribes” — have a style all their own, full of exuberant life. Listening to them is like arriving at an ancient canyon on a Harley-Davidson. “Café Carnival,” one of the new tunes recorded for this “best of” collection, mines the rich, jostling rhythms and brash brass of Latin music, while the other fresh track, “Beyond Words,” uses guest artists Third Force to create smoother ambient grooves. Selections from Chaquico’s 1997 album, Once in a Blue Universe, possess a slicker jazz sound, smoothed by sweet harmonies and the satiny sounds of saxman John Klemmer. Richard Elliot drives a harder, smokier tenor sax on the funky “Sweet Talk” and the sublime “Autumn Blue” from A Thousand Pictures. Though Chaquico’s arrangements may shift from silky to hip-shaking, his masterful touch on the guitar never changes. If the jubilant “Find Your Way Back” from Acoustic Planet sounds familiar, flash back to your Jefferson Starship memories. It’s tangy, free, and refreshing, just right for the car stereo on a drive through the country.
Barnes & Noble – Carol Wright
Since his 1993 debut Acoustic Highway, Craig Chaquico’s creative blending of snappy guitar melodies and subtle Native American textures has contributed something of a spiritual nature to smooth jazz. It’s interesting to note, however, that as his fame as an instrumental star increased, he became a little more conscious of commercial considerations. The twelve “greatest hits” tracks of Panorama: The Best of Craig Chaquico bear out this evolution. Earlier material like the soundscape-heavy “Gathering of the Tribes” and the drive-time energetic “Native Tongue” let his guitar lead the way, buoyed by the bluesy keyboard textures of longtime partner Ozzie Ahlers. “Sweet Talk” and “Autumn Blue” added the blistering tenor counterpoint of Richard Elliot, while the slick pop slant of “Lights out San Francisco” paired him with the graceful strings of Peter White. But while these all-star enhanced tunes are slightly more radio friendly, Chaquico makes sure his crisp strings are always center stage. Two new cuts hint at his future playing more Latin and trip hop music. He improvises easily over the hypnotic toe-tapping trance grooves of 3rd Force on “Beyond Words,” then lets his strings dance over the fiery brass, explosive percussion, and Ahlers’ Latin synth harmonies on “Cafe Carnival.” This bright fiesta is something of a time travel bridge to Chaquico’s days with Starship, his extended electric rock guitar solo being the first time he’s ever alluded to those days on one of his mellower instrumental projects.
All Music Guide – Jonathan Widran
1 Native Tongue (6:40)
2 Sacred Ground (6:56)
3 Forbidden Love (5:26)
4 Gathering of the Tribes (6:02)
5 Café Carnivál (4:19)
6 Return of the Eagle (6:37)
7 Gypsy Nights (4:17)
8 Lights out San Francisco (3:31)
9 Beyond Words (4:03)
10 Blue Universe (4:45)
11 Sweet Talk (3:23)
12 Autumn Blue (4:04)
13 Find Your Way Back (5:24)
14 Acoustic Highway (4:56)