Monday, April 27, 2009

Julian Lage Sounds Off

Berklee student Julian Lage’s debut solo album, The Sounding Point, is all over the place in the best way possible. Showcasing his interest in classical music, jazz, and American folk music, it is a credit to the young Mr. Lage that The Sounding Point never sounds schizophrenic. In spite of the album’s huge scope, Lage never sounds like he’s stretching himself too far.

Lage, who became well known in 1997 as the subject of the academy award winning documentary “Jules at Eight,” has until now been known mostly as a child prodigy and as a collaborator of fellow child prodigy Taylor Eigsti. The Sounding Point, however, shows that he is more than just that; his integration of numerous idioms on tracks like “All Purpose Beginning” and “Quiet Through and Through” prove that he is a major talent in the process of finding himself as a musician.

While Lage’s band on the album largely consists of himself, cellist Aristides Rivas, saxophonist Ben Roseth, bassist Jorge Roeder, and drummer Tupac Mantilla, the best tracks on the album are arguably the three collaborations with banjoist Bela Fleck and mandolinist Chris Thile. These tracks showcase a relatively seamless dialogue between jazz and bluegrass, and are in many ways the culmination of a fusing of these two genres that began in the 90s with Bill Frisell’s Nashville.

“The Informant,” one such track, opens with a nimble banjo line from Fleck that is immediately mimicked and spun around by Lage. The three of them eventually enter into a fast, contemporary bluegrass jam that features some snaky guitar lines from Lage and later, a series of trade-offs between Fleck and Thile. These three tracks are alone worth the price of the album, as they showcase three great musicians from largely different backgrounds working together to create interesting improvised music.

The album’s other highlight is technically not on the album at all; a run through “All Blues” that features Lage’s compatriot Taylor Eigsti. While the tune is by now overplayed- and there is a clearly definitive and beloved version (that would be Miles Davis’)- Eigsti and Lage take the tune and turn it inside out without even altering anything that makes the tune great. It’s still in 6/8 (or 3/4, depending on your Real Book edition), the chords aren’t reharmonized (at least not initially), and it still swings like nobody’s business; the joy in it, however, is in hearing the two musicians really cut loose on a straight-ahead, old school jazz tune after hearing almost an hour of Lage’s classical and bluegrass fusions. The placement is jarring, and really does seem to prove that Julian Lage is capable of anything.

1 comment:

Anthony said...

My pithy description of the CD is "If Bill Frisell were a virtuoso."