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Julian Lage Trio at Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

Doug Collette By

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Julian Lage Trio
Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
Burlington, Vermont
December 2, 2018

It was altogether fitting that guitarist Julian Lage led his trio onto a small stage surrounded on three sides by the modified stadium seating in place at FlynnSpace this early December evening. All the better for the swarthy bandleader to graciously exhibit the ever-so-subtle nuances of his skills and those of his bandmates during this first of two performances.

Julian Lage's greatest virtue may be his gift for understatement. And certainly his delicate touch was most prominent during this somewhat truncated initial set, but only slightly more so than the facile technique bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Kenny Wollesen applied to their respective instruments: fortunately, the sonic clarity this intimate venue's always boasted in the past remains in the wake of the renovations to the small room from earlier in 2018 (and might even have improved to a degree).

In line with the leader's indirect approach to melody, the trio's playing was alternately accessible and provocative from the very start. But, as with the opening of the oft-covered "Love Hurts," the threesome punctuated their careful exposition of the familiar melody with demonstrative flourishes, as notable in Lage's body language as the stark relief in dynamics. Such demonstrative gesticulations were the first of many during the hour-plus performance, all of which belied his soft touch on the strings of both guitars he utilized at muted volume from his tiny amplifier.

As this interpretation wound down, however, the threesome took a distinct digression from the song structure into some dissonance the likes of which recurred at regular intervals. Those patterns the musicians established kept the audience alert, largely because their playing never turned predictable, at least until late in the set: oddly enough, this phenomenon occurred immediately after a somewhat literal reading of pianist Keith Jarrett's "The Windup." Lage, Roeder and Wollesen further skirted formula as they concluded, however, with the varying choices of material interspersed with solo breaks from the rhythm section.

Nevertheless, the leader slightly botched his second attempt at a closing series of harmonics. Not that such a relatively small miscue could undermine the overall impact of this show though; segues that occurred during the course of this performance provided as much continuity as contrast, ultimately emphasizing Lage's fundamental distinction as a guitarist: he usually prefers to avoid playing a melody line straight, preferring to approach at an angle above, below or behind, thus only hinting at the foundation of the composition. Wollesen also proved himself a past master of the oblique too, regularly hitting the off beat(s), so the role of pure timekeeper fell to Roeder and he filled it with understated panache.

Selections from the Modern Lore (Mack Avenue, 2018) including "The Ramble," "Atlantic Limited" and "General Thunder" were wholly emblematic of Julian Lage's patient style than the ever-so-quick encore that almost but not quite rocked. That said, this deceptively unassuming musician's subdued but nevertheless animated stage presence-right arm up, crouched at the knees, body in full sway-reveals the obvious delight he takes in handling his instrument, begging the question of a future venture directly into the realm of jazz fusion, distinct from his membership in the Nels Cline Four.

The most inviting prospect of that hypothetical scenario however is that, in the meantime, Julian Lage continues to conscientiously (and happily) explore the terrain of his own carefully-defined niche, the fearless expedition into which so quietly delighted his listeners this wet winter night in the Green Mountains.
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