Julian Lage’s Arclight, released in April, marked an invigorating new direction for the still-young guitarist. Joined by Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums (the same pair Lage had seen as a child backing Jim Hall), Lage cranked out a spirited but tightly edited set of 11 tunes, ranging from covers of obscure 1930s gems to free-jazz originals, all clocking in at between 2:09 and 4:12 in length.
On this follow-up EP, the trio stretches out on five of those same tunes, albeit by only an extra minute or so on three tracks. It opens with “Persian Rug,” an irresistible burner featuring Lage’s guitar virtuosity, Colley’s race-walking bass and Wollesen’s fleet brushes, which he swaps out for sticks as the volume ratchets up midway through. “Nocturne” fills four and a half minutes with a leisurely country vibe reminiscent of Bill Frisell, another of Lage’s heroes (and a longtime collaborator of Wollesen’s). “Activate,” written to be free but short, moves in and out of uptempo swing, and Lage monopolizes the freedom until the raucous end of this supercharged set-closer.
Tracks 2 and 4, lasting 12:57 and 10:13, respectively, are where the band really gives itself room to ramble. “I’ll Be Seeing You” begins with Lage unaccompanied, his guitar slow and pensive before gliding into the familiar melody three minutes in. The others join: Colley improvises counterpoint, the music revs up and turns free just over halfway in and Colley eventually grabs his lone solo. “Stop Go Start,” an avant-garde crowd-pleaser, opens with three minutes of adventurous, unaccompanied Wollesen. Lage jumps in and takes off, inventing flurries of notes that evolve into quoting Ornette Coleman’s “School Work” for a spell, before exiting in another flurry. Arclight was stellar work, and this EP demonstrates the group is even more exciting live.