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Julian Lage – ‘Speak to Me’

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    Posted: 26 Feb 2024 at 4:18am
Julian Lage – Speak to Me

(Blue Note 1434491. Album review by John Bungey) 

JULIAN LAGE - Speak To Me cover

It’s good to see the California-born guitarist’s upward career trajectory reflected in the ever larger London spaces he’s invited to fill. From the Pizza Express and Jazz Cafe in 2018, Lage has progressed through the Union Chapel and Cadogan Hall to an upcoming date at the Barbican. It’s a hall usually reserved only for the Methenys and McLaughlins of the jazz guitar profession.

Of course some of the audience heading for EC2 on April 21 may not think of Julian Lage as a jazz musician at all – especially newcomers who’ve only heard this fourth Blue Note album. In the spirit of occasional collaborator Bill Frisell, Lage seems to reject all stylistic boundaries: 13 concise tracks here take in blues, country and Americana of every stripe.

Speak to Me opens with the sun-bleached and Spanish-tinged acoustic guitar of “Hymnal” before a swerve into a stomping rock-blues, “Northern Shuffle”, which Lage proceeds to subvert with playful jazz licks. It’s back to acoustic guitar for “Omission”, the loveliest piece here, with an open-road, wind-in-the-hair feel that recalls early Metheny. Then, on the countrified lament “Serenade”, you’re half expecting Willie Nelson, or similar wizened growler, to pipe up.

There’s more Spanish-tinged artistry on the solo “Myself Around You”, all virtuoso cartwheels and curlicues. On “South Mountain”, lush acoustic guitar chords sound over gentle noiseplay from percussion and woodwind, adding a dose of strange. Throughout the album, core duo or trio performances are joined by, say, sax, vibes or organ, commenting on proceedings. In Joe Henry’s production these extra textures rarely muscle to the foreground but subtly spice the flavours.  

For those who know Lage only through energetic live shows with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, the title track will feel more familiar. Over an insistent pulse, Lage solos in a series of lightning runs, choppy chords and the sort of wailing high notes that few axemen can execute without an anguished gurn.

And so the album wends its way through gypsy jazz, bebop and something langourous that could soundtrack a moody French new wave flick (As It Were). Choices are surprising, never jarring, before the pay-off, Nothing Happens Here, a pretty little tune that’s just the hip side of hokey.

OK, Speak to Me is perhaps not perfect – the acoustic forays of tracks four and five do slow the flow. And if you’ve come to hear Dave King (the Bad Plus co-founder) batter skins as exuberantly as he is wont, then the drummer is on a tight leash here. Nonetheless, partly thanks to Henry’s production and the settings he creates for the guitarist to explore, the album is Lage’s most impressive yet.

And, incidentally, Speak to Me comes amid a clutch of fine releases on Blue Note Records – from Joel Ross, Charles Lloyd and more. Lage and his venerable label are on a roll.


BAND: Julian Lage (guitars), Jorge Roeder (bass), Dave King (drums), Kris Davis (piano), Levon Henry (sax), Patrick Warren (keyboards)

from https://londonjazznews.com

Edited by snobb - 26 Feb 2024 at 4:19am
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