Julian Lage: Living Lage

Dan Bilawsky By

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It's good to be Julian Lage. The former wunderkind is all grown up and living large, playing with some of the best musicians on the planet; that makes perfect sense, considering he's also one of them. The young guitarist has done his homework, paid his dues and earned his stripes, and now he's spreading his wings and flying high.

In 2013 alone, Lage hit the road in duo settings with fellow guitarists, like Nels Cline and Chris Eldridge, made the rounds with vibraphonist Gary Burton's New Quartet and drummer Eric Harland's Voyager, and dropped in at the Newport Jazz Festival to play a set with the legendary Jim Hall. With all of his live performances, it's a wonder that he has any time at all to record, but these two documents demonstrate that he's just as busy in the studio as he is on the stage.

The New Gary Burton Quartet

Guided Tour

Mack Avenue Records


Vibraphonist Gary Burton was championing and mentoring Lage before the guitarist was old enough to drive, but that was then and this is now. These days, Burton and Lage are tearing it up together; the student has clearly become a peer.

Guided Tour is the second outing from The New Gary Burton Quartet and the fourth Burton date—following Generations (Concord Jazz, 2004), Next Generation (Concord Jazz, 2005) and Common Ground (Mack Avenue, 2011)—to feature Lage. Together, they make for a formidable front line that can glow or burn; they do both, and a whole lot more, during this ten song program.

Potency and musical intricacy are in the air as the album kicks off with "Caminos"—one of two contributions from drummer Antonio Sanchez—but bluesy banter arrives and dominates on the follow-up tune—Lage's "The Lookout." Burton's "Jane Fonda Called Again" gives Lage a chance to shine out front, as his clean-toned lines draw focus from the start, and the vibes/guitar combination is at play on the head of "Jackalope."

The lone standard on the album—a re-harmonized, Andalusian-encrusted, misty-eyed rendition of "Once Upon A Summertime"—sits in the middle of the program and stands as one of the highlights on the album, but plenty of fantastic music follows it. "Sunday's Uncle," which sounds like a Burton original but belongs to Lage, "Remembering Tano," which has a pseudo-Argentine allure to it, and "Monk Fish," with its fun-and-quirky mannerisms, all deserve high marks.

Burton's "New" quartet isn't exactly new anymore but it delivers fresh and compelling music that reflects its moniker.

Fred Hersch And Julian Lage

Free Flying

Palmetto Records


Pianist Fred Hersch is best known for his solo piano playing and trio work, but he isn't exactly a stranger to the duo format. Over the years, he's done the duo thing on record and/or on stage with everybody from Hall and Burton to vocalist Nancy King and clarinetist Anat Cohen. Now, Lage's name can be added to the list.

On Free Flying, this pair tackles seven Hersch tunes and two classics—"Monk's Dream" and Sam Rivers' "Beatrice." Musical exactitude, emotional weight and the element of surprise are all at play here. Background/Foreground alternation and counterpoint come and go throughout but never work in the same way twice. Sometimes Hersch and Lage are cagey in their dealings, as on "Down Home," but they can also be surprisingly direct, as demonstrated during the touching "Heartland."

Each number gives them an opportunity to show off a different facet of their artistry. "Free Flying" highlights a sense of playfulness and Brazilian buoyancy, "Stealthiness" lives up to its name, and "Monk's Dream" is packaged in nimbler-than-usual fashion; the marriage of clarity and cunning is the only common thread on those three tracks.

Hersch's on-record meeting with guitarist Bill FrisellSongs We Know (Nonesuch, 1998)—was his only guitar-and-piano outing prior to this; maybe it just took him fifteen years to find the right match.

Tracks and Personnel

Guided Tour

Tracks: Caminos; The Lookout; Jane Fonda Called Again; Jackalope; Once Upon A Summertime; Sunday's Uncle; Remembering Tano; Helena; Legacy; Monk Fish.

Personnel: Gary Burton: vibraphone; Julian Lage: guitar; Scott Colley: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums.

Free Flying

Tracks: Song Without Words #4: Duet; Down Home (For Bill Frisell); Heartland (For Art Lande); Free Flying (For Egberto Gismonti); Beatrice; Song Without Words #3 Tango; Stealthiness (For Jim Hall); Gravity's Pull (For Mary Jo Salter); Monk's Dream.

Personnel: Fred Hersch: piano; Julian Lage: guitar.

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