Sounding Point – Julian Lage
As post-child prodigies go, one would be hard pressed to find a more surprisingly sophisticated musician than Julian Lage. Blessed with the ability to let music breathe, withholding notes and audio hyperbole, the 21-year old guitarist delivers a mature debut album. Sounding Point features a sharp quartet, along with a trio of veteran guests, banjo player B Fleck, mandolinist Chris Thile, and pianist Taylor Eigsti.
And the word “mature” can be a bit tricky. Lage appears much older than his years based on his compositional skills, and restraint as a player. The expert axe man also appears wise enough to select carefully chosen influences, without betraying their artistic spirit. Rooted in jazz motifs, the guitarist works well within a tasteful group, including Tupac Mantilla on drums and percussion, Aristides Rivas on cello, Ben Roseth on sax, and Jorge Roeder on bass, as they explore but don’t meander outside the rules of engagement. Instead, Lage seems intent on building sonic portraits and composed gems, while assimiliating a plethora of styles ranging from classical music to blues to Indian riffs.
The quartet has an expert sense of dynamics, playfulness, and communication (“Clarity,” “All Purpose Beginning,” and “Motor Minder.”) However, Lage is even more adventurous on the triumvirate of songs either co-composed or covered with Fleck and Thile, and his duets with both Eigsti and Roseth. With Fleck on banjo, and Thile on mandolin, “The Informant” features an inventive burst of multi-layered tension and release; “Long Day, Short Night” combines a main riff with dueling guitar, banjo, and mandolin to great effect; and a cover of Elliot Smith’s “Alameda” is off-the-cuff and unpredictable in this trio setting. Occasional touring duet partner and pianist Eigsti plays with Lage on two rather intriguing escapades (“Tour One,” and a cover of Miles Davis’ “All Blues”), while the guitarist nails a fine original with Roseth on his lyrical ode to “Petersborough,” the Boston street where the duo reside. Lage also serves his muse well on a pair of serene solo performances (“Familiar Posture” and “Constructive Rest”).
Julian Lage plays a mixture of world, jazz, acoustic blues, and classical guitar like an astute seasoned veteran. Although this is the axe man’s debut studio album after years of disparate tours and wood-shedding with the likes of Fleck, David Grisman, and Gary Burton, he has achieved a lofty level of meticulous craftsmanship. While this is quite an admirably fine collaboration, and a bright entrance into the compositional mind of the young guitarist, one hopes that he can continue to leave his influences behind, and seek new templates of improvisation and invention within his music.