Album reviews

Julian Lage – ‘Squint’

Julian Lage – Squint
(Blue Note. Album review by John Bungey)

If your local jazz club had a huge whip-round or received a vast council grant (OK I’m dreaming), who would you want to see on the bandstand? Guitarist Julian Lage is a good candidate; he may often be pictured wielding that rock-star favourite, the Fender Telecaster, but his sound is intimate, warm, detailed – ideally suited to close inspection at a small venue. And his range is remarkable – a master of all forms of jazz through to country, blues and the edges of rock. Here’s a man whose trio could take requests from Moon River to John McLaughlin’s Extrapolation without breaking sweat.

Squint is the 33-year-old player’s debut on Blue Note. Recorded in Nashville, it marries that label’s jazz tradition with the twang of country rock. He can sound flawlessly melodic as on the opening solo Etude; he can sound bluesy as on the swaggering Boo’s Blues or Twilight Surfer. Almost always the mood is breezy and amiable – even when negotiating the tricky angles of the Ornette Coleman-inspired Familiar Flower. If some electric guitarists are all angst and fuzz pedals there’s a clarity and lightness to Lage’s method.

He is joined by bassist Jorge Roeder and Dave King, a drummer known for explosive flights with The Bad Plus. The cymbals, though, are in less peril here, whether he’s playing an insistent backbeat on the catchy Saint Rose, or slippery bop on the title track. Bassist and drummer played on Lage’s even more eclectic 2019 album, Love Hurts, and they sound like a perfectly meshed trio.

Nine of the 11 tracks are originals and the music has similarities with other recent pigeonhole-defying Blue Note signings – the guitarists Nels Cline and Bill Frisell. Day & Age, which starts off as a pretty country ramble before the guitar is let off the leash, could be Frisell during his Have a Little Faith days. Lage signs off with a hokey cowboy tune, the Gene Autry oldie Call of the Canyon. Here’s a guitar-slinger wearing his virtuosity lightly as he heads off into the sunset.
So get that whip-round started, you won’t be disappointed.

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Squint is released today.

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