Jazz-Guitar Phenom Julian Lage Forges His Own Paths on Speak to Me
Julian Lage

Julian Lage – Speak to Me
(Blue Note)

The album’s title—and the fact that it’s produced by Joe Henry (Rhiannon Giddens, Loudon Wainwright III, and Allen Toussaint, among many credits)—might make you wonder if jazz-guitar phenom Julian Lage has made a singer-songwriter turn. You’d be half-right. Sorta. There are no words or voice on this. Lage sings through his strings.

But the pieces are compact, tight, engaging, and, indeed, in many ways song-like. Some are sparklingly electric, some dazzlingly acoustic, some fairly straight (the quasi-blues title tune), some nicely crooked (“Northern Shuffle” is almost “Baby Elephant Walk” run through a prism). But as impressive as his prodigious skills may be, more so is the range of expression and emotion in the playing. 

And he’s not the only one who gets to “sing” here, with his regular trio mates, bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, joined by keyboardists Kris Davis (a consistently innovative jazz pianist) and Patrick Warren (on multiple electric instruments) and sax/clarinet adventurer Levon Henry (yes, Joe’s son), in varying combinations. Producer Henry expertly tailors the backing to the material—from the all-hands noir impressionism of “Vanishing Points” to the quartets of the prairie-pastoral “Omission” and le jazz hot fantasia “Two and One” to the solo acoustic guitar sonata “Myself Around You.” Each musician excels, of course, with Warren’s various effects and young Henry’s cascades and burbles giving ear-catching twists. 

But, of course, this is Lage’s statement, and as both player and composer he seamlessly connects Django Reinhardt to Joe Pass, Charlie Christian to Bill Frisell, all the way forging his own paths, his immense talents given voice by his joyously open spirit. – GRADE: A

(Blue Note)

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