Julian Lage's star has been on the rise since the premiere of Julian at Eightthe award winning 1997 documentary short about the precocious guitar prodigy's childhood years. Since then, Lage has become a key collaborator to modern masters like Gary Burton, Jim Hall and Fred Hersch. Lage's widely acclaimed virtuosity is uncontestable, yet he remains a tonal traditionalistan aspect reinforced on Arclight, the first recording to feature him exclusively playing a solid body electric guitar. Despite the overdriven twang of his Fender Telecaster, he continues to eschew unnecessary efx that would diminish the clarity of his crystalline cadences.
Joined by upright bassist Scott Colley (a fellow band mate from Burton's group) and ubiquitous Downtown drummer Kenny Wollesen, Lage narrows his focus to concentrate on original material that evokes the folksy quality heard in Keith Jarrett's beloved 1970s American Quartet. Providing historical context and stylistic continuity, he rounds out the session's delightfully appealing program with a handful of obscure Great American Songbook standards from the pre-bop era.
The end result is a brisk but bracing affair, with few cuts lasting over four minutes. Lage and company spin minor variations on each of the catchy numbers' melodic, harmonic and rhythmic foundations without undue extrapolationan approach suggested by producer and singer-songwriter Jesse Harris, who wisely encouraged the trio to stick with first takes, capturing the spontaneous energy of their initial renditions.
Exuberant tunes like "Activate" and the surf-inflected "Prospero" careen with rollicking abandon, while "Stop Go Start" provides introspective respite, exuding the sort of aleatoric impressionism heard on Room (Mack Avenue, 2015), Lage's sublime duet with fellow guitar wizard Nels Cline. The record's four cover tunes unveil Lage's Americana influences, especially his more Frisellian tendencies, as heard in a rustic ramble through W.C. Handy's soulful "Harlem Blues."
Colley and Wollesen's adroit interplay provides far more than mere time keeping, but with each piece no longer than the average pop song, the majority of the spotlight inevitably shines on the leader, whose brief but tasteful solos brim with flinty turns of phrase and darting fretboard runs. Emblematic of its title, Arclight reveals another facet of Lage's burgeoning artistry, finding him moving beyond the acoustic asceticism that defined his earliest recordings and into a more expansive mode of expression.
Fortune Teller; Persian Rug; Nocturne; Supera; Stop Go Start; Activate; Presley; Prospero; I'll Be Seeing You; Harlem Blues; Ryland.
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