Julian Lage

Julian Lage

After appearing on record with David Grisman and Martin Taylor and having a documentary short about yourself nominated for an Oscar, all before turning 13, what do you do for a second act? If you’re Julian Lage, you record with vibes icon Gary Burton, jazz-piano phenom Taylor Eigsti, and others, and release your solo debut.

Sounding Point, from 2009, showcased Lage in a variety of ensemble settings. Straddling jazz and Americana with the help of mandolinist Chris Thile, banjo great Bela Fleck, and Eigsti, it earned Lage a Grammy nomination right out of the box.

So his sophomore effort is, in essence, his third act. Here, he retains his core backing quartet – cellist Aristides Rivas, percussionist Tupac Mantilla, and bassist Jorge Roeder, with Dan Blake replacing Ben Roseth on sax. But the backing unit’s size and configuration change for various cuts, and Lage goes it alone (both solo and in multi-tracked acoustic guitar trios) on five of the album’s dozen tunes.

Of the latter variety, he lends spontaneity and thorough understanding to an energetic-but-intimate take on the standard “Autumn Leaves,” while “Freight Train” ricochets from a BillFrisell-like arrangement of the folk song to a single-note classical tangent and even a raga/flamenco burst.

Lage, a student of the Alexander Technique (to improve freedom of movement, balance, and coordination), calls the three triple-tracked pieces studies in the relationship between kinesthetic awareness and improvisation. They are also interesting examples of interplay (even with one’s self) and the variety of tones that can be extracted from the same 1926 Martin OO-28.

Elsewhere, “Iowa Taken” hints at Will Ackerman new-age (albeit channeled through Pat Metheny), while “Telegram” cooks like a runaway locomotive – crashing at the song’s (and CD’s) end. At 23, Lage is already impossible to pigeonhole.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s July ’11 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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