Split Open Jazz: Julian Lage Brings Trio To New York City – Review
Words by: Aaron Stein
Julian Lage Trio :: 3.9.18 :: Le Poisson Rouge :: New York City
Sometimes the music is so damn good that my brain just gives up trying to follow along and I let out an involuntary laugh. About 30 seconds into guitarist Julian Lage’s show at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City Friday night, I let out the first of what would be many, many of these chuckles. Lage has that effect on pretty much anyone who has seen him. On Friday he was celebrating the release of his newest album Modern Lore in a trio with Jorge Roeder on bass and Eric Doob on drums. The set covered most of the album’s material as well as a couple choice standards, but regardless of what they played, it was Lage unleashing some of the finest guitar playing I’ve ever heard.
One of the things that makes Lage special is that each time you see him, you are only getting a small peek of his incredible talents, like a grainy photo of the Loch Ness monster, you really have no idea what else is lurking below the surface out of sight. From bluegrass to deep jamming fusion to beautiful John Zorn compositions to far-flung avant garde, he pretty much can do it all. Friday’s gig was more or less straight guitar jazz in its most traditional sense, but as the set unfolded, a jazz that has been split open completely. If you went in having listened to the excellent record, you were probably unprepared for the music played at LPR Friday. On songs like “Roger The Dodger,” the crowd got a good feel for what Lage can do, his technical talent awe-inspired and giggle-inducing, but even more so, the emotion in his playing shining through and engaging the soul.
Roeder and Doob were perfect in their role, allowing Lage to fold and unfold each solo at will. Having seen him play in several different groups, I know that Lage is a master communicator with his instrument: both an attentive listener – a psychologist with his band mates on the couch, getting to open up and probing with musical questions and comments – and as a storyteller, creating a narrative arc to his solos, starting at a beginning and twisting and surprising to an eventual, climactic conclusion. Friday being his own gig, the push and the pull were his to control from start to finish. It was almost a little jarring when Lage would talk in between songs, his kind, soft-spoken demeanor at odds with his rather vicious guitar playing.
The trio took the standard “Persian Rug” to some wonderful places, Doob and Roeder creating a shuffle as Lage unloaded a torrent of notes, each one a small perfect sweet kiss and then things turned dark for a moment before a hard-earned peak. When the trio brought things down to a quiet place, you could feel the entire room tilt towards the stage, the sold-out crowd completely mesmerized and hanging on each measure. The latter stages of the set featured multiple impressive bass solos and a nice drum solo as things seemed to stretch out just a bit, one piece getting the full-on weird-out treatment. Lots of uncontrollable fits of laughter coming from my corner of the room throughout…how many times can you think “holy shit!” in a set of music? Julian Lage seems determined to find out the answer to that one.