When: Sun., May 1, 7 p.m. 2016
Guitarist Julian Lage has been firing on all cylinders of late, easily transcending his reputation as the wunderkind who helped bring new energy to vibist Gary Burton’s latest band. In the last few years, though, Lage’s stunning facility has become one of the least interesting things about him, as he’s eagerly traversed new paths (evident both on his adventurous duet project with Nels Cline and last year’s knockout solo album World’s Fair). His new record, Arclight (Mack Avenue), pushes in yet another direction. It’s the first he’s made as a leader with an electric guitar—a Telecaster to be precise—and it’s the debut of his current trio with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Tracks are split between vintage tunes from the 20s and 30s—when the burgeoning American songbook had not yet been partitioned into categories like jazz, country, or blues—and a slew of flinty, catchy originals exploring a modern jazz sound that taps into American folk, whether the ruminative compositions of 70s-era Keith Jarrett or the atmospheric twang of Bill Frisell. With a bigger drum sound and a fatter bass tone, the originals give off a tough rock-influenced edge, and Lage’s nicely scuffed tone and crystalline phrasing suggest a kind of proto-surf-guitar sound (the opening part of “Presley” had me expecting a cover of “Sleepwalk” for a second). He’s just as imaginative on the old material, turning the trite Orientalist trifle “Persian Rug” into a buoyant swinger, and providing a totally modern take on the obscure ballad “Nocturne” with a crisp lyricism that feels genre agnostic. Tonight Lage leads the same group from the record.