Julian Lage: Speak To Me

The fluent US guitarist follows the contemporary trans-Americana orthodoxy, mixing classical, blues, rock, country and jazz, routine and outré


I must admit to being slightly bemused by guitarist Julian Lage’s recent emergence into the superstar limelight, as I had always had him down as a fine partner for the likes of Fred Hersch, Nils Cline and, more recently in trio with Charles Lloyd, but never as a fully formed leader. But here he is on his fourth Blue Note issue, a successor to his Grammy-nominated The Layers, and I am slowly becoming convinced.

Sprawled thinly over four sides of vinyl – the set fits easily onto one CD – Speak To Me starts in reverential fashion, with Lage’s precise fingering on Hymnal set off against Jorge Roeder’s echoing bass and a set of strings courtesy of Patrick Warren’s keyboards. Northern Shuffle is a gutsy urban blues, the title track a dark and dirty driving electric blues, Omission, previously released as a single, an easy-listening pastoral swing, 76 a sonic mayhem, Serenade an intense ballad.

So far, so varied, for Lage travels widely across American music, distributing gospel songs, rural blues and what we are now learning to call skronky jazz in even-handed fashion. All 13 songs are by him, and all showcase his intimate tone and precise note-play. The acoustic solo showcase Myself Around You stands out for its virtuosity, the remaining tracks augmenting his usual trio of bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King with winds and keyboards, Patrick Warren in particular conjuring up numerous sonic effects.

It all makes for a varied, rewarding listen, but the leader’s reticence, other than on the title track, where he lets rip, occasionally left me wanting more. He’s always polite, when perhaps some rougher edges should be exposed. Yes, I am now convinced by Lage as leader, as I have always have been by his evident skills, even if I still remain a little confused by the sheer variety of his music.

LP1: Hymnal; Northern Shuffle; Omission; Serenade (17.12) – Myself Around You; South Mountain; Speak To Me (15.29)
LP2: Two And One; Vanishing Points; Tiburon (13.08) – As It Were; 76; Nothing Happens Here (14.30)

Lage (g, elg); Levon Henry (as, ts, cl); Jorge Roeder (b, vib); Dave King (d); Kris Davis (p); Patrick Warren (p, kyb, org, dulcitone). Brooklyn, NYC. No dates given but c. 2023.
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