Acknowledging that he couldn't roll all of his jazz, rock, country, and blues influences into his high-spirited acoustic guitar debut Sun Song, Tony Darren emerges with a style that is not as jazz intensive as Metheny's, yet snappy along the light funk lines of Benson's trademark "Breezin'." as well as heavily Brazilian. The one guitarist who is not on Darren's influence list but whom smooth jazz listeners might make the connection to is Russ Freeman of the Rippingtons; Darren's clear, precise, laid-back but prone to wild flights of fancy approach recalls Freeman's best acoustic fare. The notion also makes sense in light of Darren's similar deftness in the instantly memorable songwriting department. Few of these tunes (half produced by Al Schmitt, half by keyboardist Gregg Karukas) ever stretch the artistic limits of the genre, but they do make for a, well, sunny listening experience. Darren and his producers know the best way to test the kid's mettle is to surround him with veteran all-stars. He has to play lightning quick and delve into some dazzling solo territory on "Carnival" to keep up with the increasing percussive temperature cooked up by bassist John Pena, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and Lenny Castro, who goes for a wild jungle soundscape effect. Darren's brisk, funky lead melody lines on the title track more than match the energy Karukas throws into his playful mid-song solo. But it's not always about running a race; on the soft-lit trio-flavored "Kari," the guitarist's remarkably restrained phrases rise over brief elegant harmony chords of Joe Sample's piano, all nudged slowly along by Colaiuta's drum brushes.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran