Fans of veteran guitarist Craig Chaquico know the accolades by heart. In the 90s, the longtime electric axe man for Jefferson Starship (then Starship) left the rock world to travel a much mellower Acoustic Highway, resulting in sales over the past 16 years of over a million solo albums, ranking as “One of the Top 100 Guitarists of All Time” by Jazziz Magazine and “Best Pop Instrumental Guitarist” in Guitar Player Magazine’s readers poll. But the foremost question on their mind since the release of 2004’s Midnight Noon--and his Holiday project a year--later is “Where has he been?”
Four or five years between major releases is a lifetime in the music industry, but it’s probably par for the course in this day of indie labels being eaten by corporate giants and others going out of business altogether.Chaquico was one of the late, lamented new age/world jazz label Higher Octave Music for years; HOM merged into Narada, which was later taken over by famed jazz label Blue Note. The guitarist was obviously a casualty of the system, but it’s great to see that he’s found a home now on Shanachie, a mecca for hip sounds that represent the best of today’s melodic urban jazz.
Chaquico’s style has come full circle since he left the pop/rock powerhouse Starship and launched his solo career. In the beginning, his popular adult contemporary instrumental sound was anchored in a distinctive vibe he defined with the title of his debut solo album Acoustic Highway. He was coasting along that road for years before deciding to pick up his blazing electric axe again on his Latin-flavored 2000 hit “Café Carnival.” The track’s success no doubt inspired him to start mixing acoustic and electric on subsequent projects, and Follow The Sun blends the best of both sounds. It kicks off with the blazing Latin and blues fired, Santana-like “Luz Da Mae,” which in Portuguese (Chaquico’s heritage) means “Mother Moon.” The next track “Azores Lisoba,” which references Lisbon and the Azores Islands, has a similar electric and brassy Latin party vibe. It’s easy to wonder if there’s a theme taking shape. Turns out, the disc is dedicated to the memories of Chaquico’s beloved parents, whose families hailed from Lisbon. There’s also a nice tie in to the past as he uses the first guitar his parents ever gave him on the ambient meditation (featuring acoustic and electric) “The Coast of Orion” and the cheerful and jangling “Island Breeze.” The set is thoroughly enjoyable even without knowing the emotional back story, mixing the guitarist’s bright and eternally optimistic melodies with playing that is sensual when it needs to be (the soulful, tropical “Fantasy in Paradise”) and edgy and crackling when the spirit moves him (the robust, urban flavored “Barefoot In The Sand”).
Adding blues rock flair to everything Chaquico does is his longtime right hand man, keyboard great Ozzie Ahlers. While all of the originals are compelling, Chaquico makes a few quirky cover choices from the past which may puzzle fans a bit. Kenny G’s “Songbird” set the standard for the smooth jazz era but is more generic than the unique sound the guitarist centered his own career in the genre on. And the original instrumental version of “Lights Out San Francisco” (from 1997’s Once In A Blue Universe) is stronger than this pleasant vocal version with singer Rolf Hartley. Still, it’s great to welcome Chaquico back to the fold, and exciting once again traveling that highway as he invites us along to Follow The Sun.