There's no doubting the dexterity of the solos played by Russ Freeman and Craig Chaquico. The two guitarists, who collaborated on last year's "From the Redwoods to the Rockies," each have new instrumental albums with a New Mexico theme -- "Topaz" by Freeman's group, the Rippingtons, and "Four Corners" by Chaquico. On both discs, the pretty melodies are executed with flawless, fleet-fingered ease. But it's that ease -- that lack of any struggle, conflict or drama -- that turns the music into aural wallpaper.
Freeman's "Topaz" was inspired by the Colorado guitarist's visit to Taos, a tourist town full of T-shirt shops and overpriced art galleries. In his liner notes, Freeman credits Louis L'Amour's pulp novels as a major inspiration, and titles such as "Spirits in the Canyon" and "Under a Spanish Moon" share the author's pulpish, romanticized approach to the region's mix of Anglo, Indian and Hispanic cultures. There's some Indian flute here, some flamenco guitar there, but mostly it's the same old smooth jazz. The Rippingtons have undergone some personnel changes, but it's still Freeman's show all the way.
Chaquico's "Four Corners" is named not only after the spot where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona come together but also after a crossroads near the guitarist's home in Marin County, California. Chaquico is a Louis L'Amour fan, too, and his compositions, such as "Arizona Daybreak" and "Turquoise Moon" also take a rosily fictionalized view of the Southwest. Freeman wrote the opening cut, "The Drifter," and plays on it as well. Chaquico pays tribute to his tenure in the Jefferson Starship by including a smooth- jazz version of the Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love."
Both appearing Wednesday at the Warner Theatre with Paul Taylor. To hear a free Sound Bite from the Rippingtons, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8127. For a Sound Bite from Craig Chaquico, press 8128. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)