Julian Lage took some time out from touring the States with his trio to record a three-song set for KNKX. Performing solo, on electric guitar, he played Let Every Room Sing and Auditorium from his sophomore Blue Note album, View With A Room, with the Day And Age sandwiched between – and it is as virtuoso a jazz guitar performance as you will see this year.
The things we love about this performance are myriad. One is in appreciating the difference between witnessing Lage playing solo and when he is with with drummer Dave King and bassist Jorge Roeder.
In an ensemble, he physically leans into the trio format, drawing the energy from them and reciprocating. The improvisational dynamics are communal phenomena. Solo, it’s like Lage is somewhere between conversation and dance with his instrument.
There’s also the nature of the material, as though he’s perched at the limit of abilities with some of the changes; you know that he’s going to land them but you just don’t know how. He knows that he is going to land those changes, but in the moment, well, it is as though he appreciates the risk inherent in this style.
There are also those little moments, again, in conversation with the instrument and himself – scratching his chin and taking a beat at 1:57, it is as though he were a gymnast cracking his knuckles before a heat.
And then we have his tone. Here Lage applies his adroit technique applied to his Collings signature guitar, the 470 JL – fully hollow singlecut electric with trestle block with Ron Ellis Ellisonics all higher-wound power with clarity. Lage uses a spartan rig, typically – as here – he will use a Magic Amp Vibro Deluxe combo amp, made by Mike Moody, with very few pedals in front of it.
Lage does have some stalwarts on the floor. Notably, he is a big fan of the Strymon Flint reverb/tremolo pedal and he runs the Shin-ei B1G 1 as an always-on clean boost that adds some extra top-end.
Speaking to MusicRadar upon the release of his Blue Note debut, Squint, Lage confessed to be a sucker for treble. That he says is the secret to revealing all kinds of overtones on the instrument. The darker tones of jazz guitar are only one side of the story.
“When you go back to George Barnes, and you go back to Charlie Christian – or if you listen to Eddie Lang for that matter, albeit on acoustic – the origins of the music included those overtones, and the jazz guitar was bright, and it was rockin’,” he said. “It was more that middle period, in the ‘50s, where the darkness became the new norm, but it wasn’t always that way.
“I feel like treble is my best friend, and it is rewarding when I use it well, and it is also very revealing – for better or worse – at other times. Anything worth playing is worth playing bright. [Laughs] And I don’t say that that’s for everyone! That’s very personal, but that’s how I look at it and I practise a lot that way.”
Lage’s pursuit of treble inspired him to attach a stethoscope to his Fender Telecaster, before the sibilance became just too much. But speaking to Cory Wong on the Vulfpeck guitarist's podcast in August, Lage explained that, as a rule, he doesn’t like too much to get in between him and the instrument, often entertaining the idea of growing his pedalboard before ultimately deciding that it might only get in the way.
“Of course, being a guitar lover and admirer for my whole life, I’ve always had a curiosity about pedals [and] how people use them,” he said Lage. “There have been occasions where I’ve gone, ‘Okay, this is it, I’m getting a loop pedal,’ or, ‘I’m going to get an overdrive,’ and pretty much every time without fail there’s an immediate disconnect for me where I get baffled. I don’t understand why it’s doing its function.”
View With A Room is out now via Blue Note.