Julian Lage brings Appalachian jazz apocalypse to Pizza Express

Perhaps it's a canny coincidence that's there's a tune on Julian Lage's new album called 'Roger the Dodger', as this modern master is a dab hand at usurping preconceived notions of what a Telecaster guitar can do. Some of it is barely legal for sure, such is Lage's ability to splice country-rock and classical, free jazz and high rolling rock'n'roll, which he does with abandon during the first of two sold-out sets at Soho's Pizza Express Jazz Club.

He cuts a lean figure on stage and the triple whammy of high-energy opening tracks, all taken from his forthcoming Modern Lore (Mack Avenue), occasionally finds him bouncing on the spot, grinning at the possibilities that lie before him and his trio of bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Eric Doob. The latter pair blend seamlessly into Lage's improvisational slipstream, following with the kind of empathetic support every top flight soloist needs. They also shadow his mood - dropping to a lazy lope on the becalming 'Atlantic Limited', which also gives the audience a breather from the guitarist's gleefully intense solos.

Julian-Lage-

To his great credit Lage is exploring the deep roots of the guitar - linking the likes of Chet Atkins, Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell with wit and wonder – revelling in the sparseness a single note from his battle-scarred instrument can sustain. And in a world of gear-headed guitarists, it's a rare delight to hear the instrument's distinctive twang unadorned by reverb, delay or distortion – Lage possessing such a huge lexicon of sounds simply through his fingers he doesn't need to hide behind effects.

Julian-Lage-3

The audience was no doubt packed with guitar players, who must have been in seventh heaven as Lage dazzled with mind-boggling counterpoint lines that were part Bach part blues, simultaneously ascending and descending with their own strange gravitational push and pull. Indeed, the gig orbited around Lage's audacious solos, the trio's dynamic control and simpatico grooves, resulting in an utterly mesmerising sight and sound. Only just 30-years-old, Lage has a long way to go on his deep explorations. It's going be fascinating to see where he takes his extraordinarily imaginative playing next.

Mike Flynn

– Photos by Monika S. Jakubowska

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