Anyone who saw guitarist Julian Lage in concert with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen in 2015 will be equally surprised and delighted by Arclight. On his Mack Avenue label debut: Lage proves himself not just a student of his instrumentas if that needed further affirmation given his previous solo work and collaborations with vibraphonist Gary Burton and guitarist Nels Clinebut an exceedingly fast learner in the art of studio recording.
No question he benefits from ample assistance and not just from his featured instrumental accompanists, though Colley and Wollesen remain in step with each other on from the very beginning of "Fortune Teller" and navigate the twists and turns of the eleven tracks in tandem just as skillfully. But producer and Grammy-award winner Jesse Harris deserves extra credit for the size and clarity of the recorded sound here because that introductory track arises from the speaker (or phones if you choose) with as much presence as magnitude.
And those virtues benefit conventional material like that of "Persian Rug" too, even if the light skip of the trio especially Lage's glimmering guitar, come and go in less than two minutes. The sequencing of Arclight is key to its success because with such an eclectic approach to the inclusion of not only his own material, but selections from the likes of W.C. Handy ("Harlem Blues"), the ebb and flow of mood is palpable. For instance, "Supera," marks a midpoint between the languid likes of "Nocturne" and the chipper gait of the preceding, aforementioned track.
All of which deft movement Lage, Colley and Wollesen no doubt nurtured in concert. Yet it's one thing to navigate the spontaneity of the moment live and another to translate similarly sharp instincts in a studio as captured on the glowing likes of "Stop Go Start." And it's telling that the transitive verbs in that title reappear in the very next track "Activate;" as insinuating as is the sound of such gentle, melodious numbers, the authority in the rhythm work is equal to that in the ever-so-brief dissonance the guitarist injects into the music.
It might sound condescending to call Arclight Julian Lage's coming of age because his previous work, in all its diversity, betrayed little if any lack of confidence or skill. But by the time "Presley" rolls around., the threesome rock with a flourish on "Prospero" and "Ryland" concludes the album with a distinct atmosphere of finality, proving that skill as a bandleader, a talent of dexterity not always a given with the finest players, is now a distinction he can call his very own.
Fortune Teller; Persian Rug; Nocturne; Supera; Stop Go Start; Activate; Presley; Prospero; I'll Be Seeing You; Harlem Blues; Ryland.
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