A Fender Telecaster isn’t the first instrument that comes to mind when one thinks of jazz guitar. Jazz, after all, is a woman, better suited to the elegant lines of a Gibson ES or an Ibanez AF95 than the brutal “squareness” of a Tele. Indeed, Julian Lage’s arsenal includes several varieties of archtops and hollow bodies, but the Telecaster is his axe of choice, and with it, he is creating one hell of a legacy. With nine solo albums, countless collaborative efforts, and a literal lifetime of playing under his belt – he was a child prodigy who performed at the Grammy Awards at the age of twelve – Lage is popularizing the idea of a “rock star” jazz guitarist in a way we haven’t seen for ages. And his nearly sold-out set at Washington, D.C.’s Union Stage was evident of that.
Leaning heavily on Lage’s newest LP Modern Lore, the set kicked off with a “standard” – an instrumental adaptation of “Love Hurts” by Boudleaux Bryant, beloved for its renditions by everyone from the Everly Brothers to Gram Parsons to Nazareth. Despite Lage’s audience primarily attuned to the jazz world, it’s a neat trick to bring in stragglers by hitting them with a familiar pop tune before things get heavy. And while this “cracking open of the head” may be required to get people in the room in the era of modern jazz, Lage, along with Jorge Roeder on bass and Dave King on drums, made it clear that the rewards are boundless for listeners who give it some time and pay a little extra attention.
On compositions like Modern Lore opener “The Ramble,” a chugging guitar riffs tangled with King’s frenetic drum work, lending almost a rockabilly feel. But just when you thought Lage was playing it straight, melodies exploded into atom bombs of polymodal sorcery. The extended improvisations of Lore’s “General Thunder”, and a twelve-minute reworking of Ornette Coleman’s “Tomorrow Is The Question!” gave the trio time to head to outer space. Later in the set, they brought the audience back down to earth with a run-through of Duke Ellington’s “Call of the Canyon” before landing on a short and sweet rendition of his composition “Ryland” off 2016’s Arclight.
Need to know more? You can listen to the entire set and find out how to download your own copy HERE.
Remember kidz: ALWAYS THANK YOUR TAPER.