Julian Lage: Arclight

A departure in two major ways, Arclight is Julian Lage’s recorded debut on electric guitar and his first album to delve deeply into non-original material. The format is a simple trio: Scott Colley on double bass, Kenny Wollesen on drums, plus occasional percussion overdubs. The song structures are tight; only three of the 11 tracks stretch past four minutes, and those just barely. Colley gets a chance to state the tune of the wistful original “Presley,” but otherwise Lage is the principal melodic voice here, and to say he holds the listener’s attention is an understatement. This is one of those rare albums that leaves you wishing it were much longer.

Both Lage’s choice of instrument, a Telecaster-style guitar, and the general mood of the music-call it eclectic Americana with a double shot of whimsy-bring Bill Frisell strongly to mind. So do some of Lage’s stylistic moves: frequent use of open strings and Monkian dissonances, deep R&B-style bent notes, country-fried double stops. But there’s a consistent take-no-prisoners quality to his playing that sets him apart from his obvious forerunner. The Tele’s piercing tone suits him to a tee, especially when he turns up the grit, as on the outstanding, vaguely Arabic-sounding “Prospero” and the opening “Fortune Teller,” which starts out fairly mellow, then busts into a unison riff midway through that’s shocking in its sudden aggression.

Other highlights include quick but memorable runs through Gus Kahn and Neil Moret’s ragtimey “Persian Rug,” W.C. Handy’s “Harlem Blues” and a winningly angular “I’ll Be Seeing You.” At certain moments-a staggered phrase here, a surprising interval leap there-you can almost hear the guitar grin. No longer a prodigy, Julian Lage now qualifies as a modern master.

Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.