Guitar Prodigy Julian Lage Finds His Sweet Spot With 'Arclight' Lage mixes jazz, blues and swing on his new trio album with Scott Colley and Kenny Wollesen. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says that Lage really hits his stride in Arclight.


Music Reviews

Guitar Prodigy Julian Lage Finds His Sweet Spot With 'Arclight'

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This is FRESH AIR. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review of the new album by Julian Lage. He was a child prodigy on guitar. While he was still in high school, Lage started performing with vibraphonist Gary Burton. In recent years, Lage has stretched out stylistically, including playing in a duo with Wilco's improvising guitarist Nels Cline. Kevin says with his new trio album, Julian Lage is hitting his stride.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Guitarist Julian Lage on "Persian Rug," a little exotica written in 1927. Lage does a few old tunes on his new Trio CD "Arclight." But it's a long way from a straight jazz guitar record. One piece was written for Ry Cooder, who's made a career of blending blues, ragtime, early jazz and country guitar, hearing what they all have in common. This is from Julian Lage's "Fortuneteller."


WHITEHEAD: Julian Lage gets a little of everything in there. He's in the lineage of twang and groove pickers, like John Scofield, Bill Frisell and jazz-influenced Nashville cat Chet Atkins. "Arclight" is really a band record, for Lage's trio with Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums, and once in a while on vibraphone. They've all got solid jazz credentials and get to swing a bit. But there are also traces of pre-Beatles guitar acts, like Santo and Johnny and The Ventures. And on "Prospero" the drummer echoes Ginger Baker's tom-toms with the trio Cream.


WHITEHEAD: Julian Lage clearly enjoys strutting in front of that rhythm section. But the trio can be a band of equals, too, on quieter tracks when they settle in for some close listening. "Stop Go Start" has a lovely blend of ringing metal from Lage's steel strings and Kenny Wollesen's symbols.


WHITEHEAD: The tangle of styles and influences in Julian Lage's trio ties in with some of those oldies they play. The oldest is W.C. Handy's 1922 "Harlem Blues," incorporating the 19th-century song "Laid Around Around This Town Too Long," known in country circles as "Gotta Travel On." You go back far enough, everything's connected. Lage just reconnects the dots.


WHITEHEAD: The trio also play two tunes from the 1930s - the ballad "I'll Be Seeing You" and a little-known theme by English bandleader Spike Hughes, "Nocturne." Picking that one is a sign the guitarist does his homework. But for Julian Lage, work and play run together. And now that he has a band that can take him any place he cares to go, he's really in that sweet spot.


GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and TONEAudio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Arclight," the new recording by Julian Lage. We have an interview with Julian Lage that we've already recorded and will be featuring sometime soon. Tomorrow one FRESH AIR, two women who describe their comedy as walking the line between hipsters and hijabis. And their web sketch comedy series Nadia and this "Shugs & Fats," Nadia Manzoor and Radhika Vaz play two Muslim immigrants who dress in hijabs and are roommates in Brooklyn, trying to make sense of the culture they're now living in. The series draws on Manzoor and Vaz's own lives before they became feminists. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. John Sheehan directed show. I'm Terry Gross.

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