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Julian Lage: Squint

Chris May By

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Julian Lage: Squint
Before discussing guitarist Julian Lage's album, some food for thought... A credible argument could be put forward to say that the jazz piano trio reached its pinnacle of perfection with Bill Evans' Village Vanguard performances of June 1961, with the trio of bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, and that trios led by guitars, another chordal instrument, have long since replaced piano led trios at the evolutionary edge of the music.

Still thinking aloud, as it were, the acoustic piano might also be said to be increasingly anachronistic across jazz, its place taken in many young bands by an electric keyboard, or a guitar, or by no chordal instrument at all. On the other hand, the explanation for that could simply be cyclical. In any event, no denigration of acoustic pianists is intended. It is indisputable, however, that jazz guitar trios continue to push the boundaries of the music—or, as in the case of Lage's Blue Note debut, Squint, bring a fresh spin to the lyric territory in which Bill Evans excelled.

All but two of the eleven tracks on Squint are Lage originals and they range from blues rock to exquisitely beautiful ballads. Predictably, Blue Note is pushing the first strand, which, enjoyable as it is, forms the smaller proportion of the album. The only YouTube clip available at the time of writing is "Boo's Blues," and the album's first single is "Saint Rose." Both tunes are radio-friendly drive-time chuggers. Among the ballads, a highlight is undoubtedly the cover of Johnny Mandel's "Emily," but Lage's "Day And Age" and "Quiet Like A Flower" are every bit as gorgeous. The guitarist's playing on all three tracks is as harmonically elevated as Bill Evans was on, say, "My Foolish Heart" and "Waltz For Debby" at the Vanguard (or indeed on the versions of "My Funny Valentine" and "Romain" he recorded in a duo with guitarist Jim Hall in 1962 for the United Artists album Undercurrent).

Lage excels throughout Squint as both an improviser and a composer, and he is well served by bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, both of whom had toured with him for two years before the pandemic delayed the completion of recording. From every angle, and from start to finish, the album is a delight.

Track Listing

Etude; Boo’s Blues; Squint; Saint Rose; Emily; Familiar Flower; Day and Age; Quiet Like a Fuse; Short Form; Twilight Surfer; Call of the Canyon.

Personnel

Julian Lage: guitar, electric; Jorge Roeder: bass, acoustic; Dave King: drums.

Album information

Title: Squint | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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