Guitarist, composer, and bandleader Julian Lage is globally acclaimed as one of the most prodigious guitarists. The New York-based musician boasts a long résumé as a desired sideman with artists ranging from Gary Burton to John Zorn, to name just two. He is equally versed in jazz, classical, pop, and show tunes, and has spent more than a decade searching through American musical history with a gift for freely associating between styles, tempos, keys, and textures, adding to a seemingly limitless improvisational spirit. Sounding Point, his 2009 Emarcy debut album, was nominated for a Grammy Award. Room, his inaugural Mack Avenue set in 2014, was recorded in duo with Nels Cline. Lage reciprocated and joined Cline’s group for Lovers in 2016, the same year his own Arclight appeared. On the latter, Lage played a Telecaster in a program of modern originals and pre-bop covers with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. He brought the lineup back together for 2018′s acclaimed Modern Lore, and also worked with Cline on the Grammy-nominated Currents, Constellations. Introducing a trio with Jorge Roeder and Dave King, Lage released 2019′s Love Hurts and 2021′s Squint. On 2022′s View with a Room, the trio added Bill Frisell as a second guitarist.
Jazz guitarist Julian Lage was a child prodigy — playing his instrument at the age of five and performing in public a year later. Shortly thereafter, Lage began playing with such renowned artists as Carlos Santana (when he was only eight years old!), Pat Metheny, Kenny Werner, Toots Thielemans, Martin Taylor, and David Grisman, among others, resulting in Lage being the subject of the Academy Award-nominated 1996 documentary film Jules at Eight. In addition to performing, Lage recorded as a duo with Grisman (the 1999 release Dawg Duos), and contributed a fine cover of “In a Sentimental Mood,” with Martin Taylor and David Grisman, to the 2000 compilation Acoustic Disc: 100% Handmade Music, Vol. 5. Lage also appeared at numerous jazz concerts/festivals and performed at the 2000 Grammy Awards.
In 2009, Lage released his debut solo album, Sounding Point, on Emarcy. The album was widely celebrated as the arrival of a new and authoritative voice on the instrument. This was followed by the concept album Gladwell in 2011. He fronted a quintet that featured bassist Jorge Roeder, tenor saxophonist Dan Blake, cellist Aristides Rivas, and drummer/percussionist Tupac Mantilla. The guitarist switched labels for 2013′s Free Flying. Issued on Palmetto Records, it was recorded in duet with pianist Fred Hersch.
The duo format apparently agreed with Lage, though its focus shifted a bit. In 2014, he issued two such albums. The first was Avalon with guitarist Chris Eldridge. Produced by the Milk Carton Kids’ Kenneth Pattengale, it contained bluegrass, folk, jazz, and classic pop standards; the pair called it a “love letter to the acoustic guitar.” Lage’s second 2014 album, Room, with fellow jazz guitarist Nels Cline, appeared on Mack Avenue. It focused on a range of material, from intricately composed and complex works to free and spontaneous improvisations.
In 2016, Lage released the trio album Arclight with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Produced by Grammy-winning guitarist/songwriter Jesse Harris (Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux), the album featured the single “Nocturne.” A five-song EP, Live in Los Angeles, followed later that year, documenting concert versions of songs from Arclight. In early 2017, Lage reunited with Chris Eldridge for Mount Royal, a second volume of acoustic guitar duets. Later that year, he paired with Gyan Riley for Midsummer Moons, a duet album of ten John Zorn compositions. The following year Lage reassembled his trio with Colley and Wollesen for Modern Lore. Produced by Harris, this set flipped the script on Arclight. Where the previous set — his first electric guitar trio date — found the artist inspired by freewheeling, pre-bop jazz, the latter recording incorporated the rhythmic sensibility and persona of early rock & roll in improvisational settings.
After tours with his own and Cline’s groups, Lage formed a new trio with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King (Bad Plus) to cut his third Mack Avenue offering, 2019′s Love Hurts. Whereas Arclight explored the pre-bop and country swing eras and Modern Lore surveyed first wave rock & roll, Love Hurts found the guitarist searching through the music of the late 1960s and early to mid-’70s in various genres for a series of covers — including songs by Roy Orbison, Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Giuffre, and Peter Ivers — in a jazz fusion of his own design Backed by King and Roeder, Lage returned with the Margaret Glaspy- and Armand Hirsch-produced Squint, his Blue Note debut, in June 2021. Expanding his trio to a quartet with the inclusion of guitarist Bill Frisell, the group recorded ten Lage originals and hit the road for the summer jazz festival circuit. The Glaspy-produced View with a Room by the quartet appeared in September 2022. ~ Greg Prato