Thirty years into his life, twenty-five years into his guitar-playing career, and two years into his time as a bandleader, Julian Lage has returned with his most mature album yet. Playing the darling Telecaster that gave Arclight its wonderful fuzzy feel, and supported by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen (legends in their own right), Lage flings from fret to fret, fingers frolicking in the twilight between full tube clipping and the classic clarity of more conventional jazz guitar. Lage is a wizard of intonation; his control over the guitar is tight enough to be able to seemingly pile on and back off the fuzz at a moment’s notice by subtly switching up his strumming technique. The work in the details is stunning.
And while Lage deftly modulates his tone by playing on this boundary, the real credit to his skill as a guitarist is the sheer apparent ease with which he plays. Lage throws up strange chord voicings and makes great melodic jumps in rapid succession, stopping only for an incidental bend or arpeggio, before whisking away on yet another lovely jaunt deep into the realms of music theory I don’t understand.
Colley and Wollesen are no slouches either. You might recognize them: Wollesen has toured with Tom Waits, Norah Jones, and Sex Mob, while Colley has spent time with Herbie Hancock and Jim Hall. Lage is the only member of the trio without a Wikipedia page.
In fact, the story is quite sweet - apparently, Lage grew up watching jazz jams at Yoshi’s; at the time, Colley and Wollesen played in the house band, backing touring soloists. Eventually, they played together, and so the happy trio was born.
Vibes on the album range from a rustic ramble (“Wordsmith”) to Ornette Coleman-esque free jazz (the fantastic track “Earth Science”). Every track is distinct and worthwhile. “The Ramble” rocks, “Look Book” hits a chirpy stride and plants itself there, and “Roger the Dodger” ambles whimsically in the verse and grooves hard through the refrain. Blues and rock serve as motifs on this album; Lage bends genres into patterns that stand testament to his sheer musicality.
And yet, Lage has matured. This is his sophomore effort as bandleader, and one that paints him as becoming more comfortable with the role, more agile and willing to play with new ideas. He feels more personable, more expressive, more rhythmically coy. Arclight wasn’t a bad album by any stretch of the imagination - but it is no terrible thing to have the sophomore LP trump the first stab.
To close on, I’m left keen for the great things in the trio’s future. Onwards and upwards, lads.
Artist: The Julian Lage Trio. Label: Mac Avenue Records. Top Tracks: The Rambler, Roger the Dodger, Earth Science. For Fans Of: Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, BB King. 43 minutes