Already one of smooth jazz's best selling artists, guitarist Craig Chaquico is an artist least likely to need any sort of commercial boost; yet his fourth release Once in a Blue Universe sacrifices a bit of his trademark subdued musical spirituality for slick pop elements that seem calculated to increase his stature and sales. Fortunately, he doesn't let these inclusions -- which include appearances by Dave Koz, Richard Elliot, and Peter White; production help from Boney James producer Paul Brown; and two cover tunes -- detract from the buoyant, strolling acoustic flair that dominates his melodies. Then again, the few tunes featuring only Chaquico and the blues/rock touch of keyboardist Ozzie Ahlers are the standouts, reminding listeners of the simplicity and originality of his first two discs. The tandem's throbbing cover of Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright" perfectly captures their intense yet often playful partnership, as well as their rock roots. Chaquico will no doubt gain fans of more typical pop-jazz fare with his wider palette this time, but none of the additions reveal his true artistry like the disc's best cut, "Indian Springs," a floating, highly atmospheric tribute to the Southwest featuring the graceful Native American flute shadings of Douglas Spotted Eagle.
Jonathan Widran, Rovi