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Julian Lage: Modern Lore

Gareth Thompson By

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As a young guitar prodigy, Julian Lage often went to gigs at the Bay Area jazz club Yoshi's. There he would sit up front, put his head on stage and watch admiringly. Backing his early heroes at Yoshi's were two musicians who now form a trio with Lage. Double bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen performed on Lage's 2016 album Arclight (Mack Avenue Records) to wide acclaim. The threesome reunites here for Modern Lore, with Lage's friend and collaborator Jesse Harris involved again.

Nowadays it's others who lean close to the stage and gaze enrapt at Lage. Collusions with the likes of Chris Eldridge and Nels Cline have seen him mixing bluegrass, pop and jazz, with a hint of classical, even avant-garde. But whereas Arclight found Lage delving into early twentieth century tunes, Modern Lore seeks out the very foundations of rock music and digs deep.

The acoustic guitar having been his early tool of choice, Lage indulges a love of the Telecaster here, like he did on Arclight. The sound has an unfussy clarity, as if Lage is playing your living room with his Fender and a home-made amp. The work of Chicago-based Bill MacKay often comes to mind when Lage finds a similar purity of melody. The two also share a style of lucid strumming, where each crotchet or quaver really counts for something.

So to the album's title, Modern Lore. This more than hints at the present-day mixing with a sense of learning. Opening cut "The Ramble" bears this out, when a strutting bass intro and rattling rhythm sticks give way to Lage in B.B. King mode. Catchy bluesy chords lead to a pinging solo, with notes so sparkling they might be freshly dew-dropped. You also get a hint of fuzzed-up Jimmy Page and John Abercrombie's pure picking. Retro this is not, refined it certainly is. Julian Lage is the ultimate jazz curator, with history in his fingertips. He conjures bygone eras, shakes off their dust, then hands you them anew.

"Atlantic Limited" escorts you down a sultry sidewalk, before "General Thunder" kicks in with a straight 4/4 solid rhythm. Despite this unvaried upbeat, Lage offers something close to what John McLaughlin once called a 'sadjoy' state of being, via a series of pensive refrains.

Each cut brings something new to the party. "Roger The Dodger" mixes funky chords and refined solos, "Wordsmith" rumbles into true rock 'n' roll and "Revelry" is like the air of a folk ballad. More revelations come on "Earth Science" when Lage seems to drill his fretboard into your very core with metallic rigour.

Tagging this collection as some kind of 'jazz-rock' outing would be simplistic and gruff. For sure it moves Lage into new arenas, but when did he ever remain static? Modern Lore is a perfect paean to the electric guitar and all its sensual traditions.

Track Listing: The Ramble; Atlantic Limited; General Thunder; Roger The Dodger; Wordsmith; Splendor Riot; Revelry; Look Book; Whatever You Say, Henry; Earth Science; Pantheon.

Personnel: Julian Lage: guitars; Scott Colley: bass; Kenny Wollesen: drums, vibraphone; Tyler Chester: keyboards; Jesse Harris: maracas, casio, acoustic guitar.

Title: Modern Lore | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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