Julian Lage – Arclight

Julian Lage "Arclight"This is an interesting record from guitarist Julian Lage in various respects: it is his first trio record, it is his first album where he plays electric guitar, and it is his first album produced by singer and songwriter Jesse Harris. All of the 11 tracks on offer are between two and four minutes long and what we get is swing, blues, jazz, folk, rock, and pop.

Julian is probably best known for playing in Gary Burton‘s New Quartet, but he has also played with Jim Hall, Eric Harland, Taylor Eigsti, and Fred Hersch. “Arclight” is his fourth album as a leader and I was lucky enough to have seen him perform with Gary Burton a few times over the years. Backing him on his new album are Scott Colley on bass and long-time Bill Frisell accompanist Kenny Wollesen on drums and percussion.

The Fender Telecaster is featured throughout this album which sounds to me as the new Bill Frisell album that Bill himself didn’t come up with (see review on these pages). It is a fine mixture of seven originals with a quartet of old classics, like the Gus Kahn and Charles Daniels romp “Persian Rug”, serving as swinging interludes on this pretty up-to-date sounding album. The obscure “Nocturne”, written by British band leader Spike Hughes, is probably the best example for the Frisell comparison.

But it is in the original compositions where the album really takes off. “Supera” is a delightfully light and airy piece with some very lyrical passages, probably echoing the producer’s input as well. Whereas “Stop Go Start” is a hilariously experimental and almost funny piece that isn’t really a song, but more like a piece consisting of fragments. And the very short “Activate” showcases Julian’s enormous dexterity and boldness. There is a lot more structure and storytelling on the folk-blues “Presley” and some rock elements on the slightly aggressive “Prospero”.

Even standards like “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Harlem Blues” come to life with vivid arrangements – the latter by Willard Robison‘s arrangement which perfectly fits the Lage/Harris idea of transporting these old-school pieces into today’s improvisational landscape. And with “Ryland”, we also get a melancholic, nocturnal, countrified paean that celebrates what? The arc? The light? A pretty entertaining set, this.

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