REVIEW: Julian Lage Trio at Pizza Express Dean Street

Julian Lage
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

Julian Lage Trio
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 17 January 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

It has been abundantly clear for many years now that guitarist Julian Lage is technically equipped to take the guitar in more or less any direction he chooses. He had already made an album as part of Gary Burton’s group as a sixteen year-old. That now seems such a long time ago. Lage has just passed his 30th birthday (on Christmas day in fact…), but he has already been around for ages, and developing, and building the base of a major career.    

His current trio project, the album Modern Lore, is not a complete denial of all that virtuosity and velocity, but often gets close to being one. The basic inclination is to slow down and relish the groove. He has set out his stall thus: “I wanted all the songs on this album to be borne out of a danceable groove, a kind of sensuality, something that felt great even before the guitar was a part of it.” And what Monika S. Jakubowska's photos capture really well here is his simple and highly communicative joy in playing.

Julian Lage and Jorge Roeder
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

There were diversions, occasional moments of wild abstraction, in last night's gig, particularly in an extended roasting section of the tune Presley from Lage’s last album Arclight. And towards the end of the set, almost like a creature from another planet, there was a delicate jazz standard, I’ll Be Seeing You. And yet the core vibe was heartfelt, and very American, often relishing those slow, lazy grooves. There are resonances of Bill Frisell (when aren’t there?), and even the shadow of a walking-pace Chet Atkins. And Lage's collaboration with Chris Eldridge from the Punch brothers also leaves its mark.

In recent interviews Lage has talked a lot about lightness and heaviness in playing, and those contrasts are really worked, as is the juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity. There is always much to admire in the sheer tonal and chordal variety he can muster. He is in good company both on the album – with Scott Colley and Kenny Wolleson (and occasional spectral keyboard subtlety from Tyler Chester) –  and last night live in London with Peruvian-born bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Eric Doob.

The album is quite unified, and to my mind highly successful in the way it presents these related grooves. So the question was whether the band could rise to the challenge in the live setting to hold an audience's interest for a full set mainly using this comfortingly similar material. Yes they could and they did.

Receiving the final applause
Julian Lage, Jorge Roeder, Eric Doob
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

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