What consistently stands out in Julian Lage’s guitar playing is his bursting-at-the-seams sense of energy. Music practically springboards from the Santa Rosa, California, native’s fingers, gently grabbing listeners by the ear and demanding full immersion. Though Lage claims he was going for a love-bent “fuzziness” on his Blue Note label debut, his Technicolor chords and precise picking make Squint, his 12th release as a leader, as extroverted and jubilant as a sunny Fourth of July celebration.
Lage’s determination to put robust songwriting next to his ample guitar chops makes Squint both focused and free. His penchant for composing by improvising to the speeches of such iconic figures as writer James Baldwin and poet Nikki Giovanni contributes, perhaps, to the elastic nature of his new material, which is furthered by the accompaniment of bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King.
Squint opens with a lovely, prismatic solo piece, “Etude,” followed by the swinging “Boo’s Blues,” which folloes an Old West path, hinting at George Jones and Buck Owens. The title track is informed by a catchy melody, beautiful picking, a little grunge, a lot of Duane Eddy, and King’s punk-swing. Johnny Mercer’s “Emily” is romance personified, Lage’s lush tone and lilting gait pure perfection. On the harder-driving “Familiar Flower,” dedicated to Charles Lloyd, the guitarist’s wiry runs and wide-span chords hopscotch around King’s precise drumming. “Day and Age” could be Bill Frisell; the rich solo intro of “Quiet Like a Fuse” recalls Pat Metheny; “Short Form” goes off reservation, an unsettling, oddly familiar melody framed in a bittersweet hue.
Lage’s fans will gobble up Squint. New listeners will count their blessings.