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For Julian Lage, Love Hurts and Music Heals

The guitarist is on a quest for musical singularity

Julian Lage
Julian Lage (photo: Nathan West)

Julian Lage is on his own today. In the largest of four practice spaces—and the only one with a proper soundstage—at a rehearsal facility near his Brooklyn home, the 31-year-old guitarist has come to woodshed a bit, a lone, lithe figure in an expansive room built to handle a full production rehearsal.

Perhaps the scale is fitting, metaphorically speaking. For the sheer scope of Lage’s artistic output over the last couple of decades on both acoustic and electric guitar, including collaborations with avant-garde svengali John Zorn, sonic anarchist and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Punch Brothers bluegrass badass Chris Eldridge, pianist Fred Hersch, and jazz-noir drummer Kenny Wollesen, would seem to defy any conventional boundaries of style. Even the term “virtuoso”—no less reductive than Lage’s previous public designation, “child prodigy”—seems too snug a fit for a player whose strengths derive as much from his restless imagination as from the presumptive lightning bolt that bestowed him with (more than) enough raw talent to make records with Gary Burton at age 11.

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James Rotondi

James Rotondi is a Nashville-based guitarist and writer who’s performed with Humble Pie, Mr. Bungle, Air (French Band), Billy Gibbons, Eric Burdon, the Grassy Knoll, and many others. A former senior editor at both Guitar Player and Guitar World magazines, he has also written for Rolling Stone, Spin, Mojo, Acoustic Guitar, The Wire, Premier Guitar, and The Boston Phoenix. His 2014 solo album, Into the Unknown, by Roto’s Magic Act, was hailed for its “masterful songwriting” (Blurt), “wickedly skilled guitar playing,” (Powerpopaholic) and “cinematic guitar tones” (Guitar Player).