Julian Lage

Jazz Memoir
Julian Lage
Julian Lage: Shervin Lainez.

The latest from Julian Lage contains mesmerizing originals featuring Bill Frisell’s supple artistry and Lage’s potent six-string imagery. View With A Room is a dreamy record that transcends contemporary jazz-guitar techniques in favor of crafting altered states of consciousness. It’s a journey of the mind with gorgeous chord melodies that stands on the shoulders of the best from jazz guitar’s long, proud tradition.

What was your inspiration for View With A Room?
I love the history of electric guitar. There was a period when the banjo was morphing into the guitar being popular. There was this handoff from the vaudeville years until the early jazz years. Nick Lucas and Eddie Lang were the real titans of that sound. Then, as you get to the mid ’30s, you have George Barnes and, obviously, Charlie Christian. So, I see this phenomenon of the guitar being evocative and electric. It feels like there are no rules or limits, and there’s a sense of risk and adventure in the playing.

As you get from that period into the ’40s and ’50s, things get organically more codified. The guitar becomes akin to the saxophone or a bebop instrument, plus the harmonic language of a piano player. Obviously, there are a million and one deviations in that story, but there was that period when the electric guitar felt clear, clean, and visceral. That’s a huge influence for me as a guitar player on this record, basically in the role of a singer where I play the heads and then take abbreviated solos. Basically, I’m playing themes.

Since I’m a player that doesn’t have an overdriven tone, it’s important for me that the clean thing reads as effusive rather than suppressed or tempered. On a tonal level, that’s the correlation. That early electric volatility goes all the way through early rock and roll with Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Scotty Moore. It’s the land before pedals (laughs).

How did Bill Frisell influence your process?
Bill Frisell’s influence on the record is monumental because what I lack in variety of sound, he brings by playing baritone electric, big reverb, and acoustic guitar. It’s like he’s filling in the other pieces of the guitar-history puzzle.

Bill is part of the fabric of modern music. I always feel like his presence is felt whether he’s there or not. Part of the fun of compiling this music is that there is a shorthand between bassist Jorge Roeder, drummer Dave King, and myself. I can teach them something by ear then we got it. With Bill, we show him the songs, we have a rehearsal the day before, and everything I want needs to be written on paper, so we’re not wasting his time.

Part of the fun was distilling it into a lead sheet so that anything he plays within this is going to be great. That put pressure on me to clarify the intent. Also, his presence and disposition in the studio is so comforting and supportive. He’s a touchstone and a spiritual guide for the music. He was supposed to play on all the songs, but there were three where he said, “No, man. You don’t need me on it.” His decision to be omitted from the record was an example of his influence on the record (laughs).

What’s unique about your signature guitar?
The Collings 470 JL is a cool guitar. Fundamentally, it had to be a great acoustic instrument. So, we had this idea of something hollow but not with sound holes. The heart of it is the Ellisonic pickups by Ron Ellis, which are based on Dynasonic pickups, which are influential in the history of electric guitar. There’s something about these big pole pieces that give you a very literal sound. You get six robust pole pieces that are unobscured, but they’re also big enough that you get this crosstalk between them. The E string is picking up some of the A string. So, you get both clarity and mushiness.

It’s warm, and there’s a haze around it when you’re playing with regular intensity. As you dig in, you get the point of the note. That clarity can feel high-octane, like you’re driving a race car, but the beauty is that it’s only there if you want it. You don’t have to play hard. As a machine, it’s fun and responsive.

There’s a Bigsby on it, and that’s because it needed more weight. Without it, it’s too light. With it, it has the perfect balance. Having a Bigsby also gives it a little springiness – a short-scale guitar with a Bigsby is more-buoyant than a Telecaster. It’s pretty phenomenal, and it’s an ode to a lot of other great guitars like Duo Jets or Guild Aristocrats – basically hollow guitars with wood in the middle and no sound holes.

What’s next?
You make the record, God willing, it comes out, and by that time, you’re ready to move on from it. I’m excited to share this record, and I’m excited to keep working on new music.

This article originally appeared in VG’s January 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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