1. 233 Butler
3. Point the Way
5. Freight Train
7. Listening Walk
9. Autumn Leaves
10. Iowa Taken
11. Listen Darkly
Julian Lage - Acoustic guitar, electric guitar
Dan Blake - Tenor sax, melodica
Aristides Rivas - Cello
Tupac Mantilla - Percussion
Jorge Roeder - Acoustic bass
Guitarist Julian Lage is barely into his twenties but he has already been hailed as a remarkable musician. In fact his prodigious talent was recognised at an early age with the documentary Jules at Eight. He came to the attention of many people when Gary Burton hired him as part of his "Generations" and "Next Generation" groups in 2003-4. Julian's first solo CD - Sounding Point - was awarded a Grammy nomination two years ago, and now here's his second album, proving that the praise heaped upon him is truth, not hype.
Julian seems capable of playing in all styles, so this album is not purely jazz but a fascinating mixture, including plenty of suprises. The line-up of Lage's group is also surprising: a pianoless quintet with cello as well as double bass. All the musicians seem like virtuosi in their own right. In a way, this is a concept album, as Julian says the group imagined a town called Gladwell and played as if they were giving us a guided tour of this happy place.
The opening 233 Butler is a cheerful piece, with Julian sounding as mellifluous and dextrous as Pat Metheny, and Tupac Mantilla constructing a drum solo including the sound of shattering glass and mysterious vocal muttering. Margaret is dedicated to singer-songwriter Margaret Glaspy, a colleague of Lage's at Berklee. The group generates much richer sounds than you might expect from a quintet, producing an opulent mix of textures.
Point the Way is the first of three improvised numbers (the others are Cathedral and Listen Darkly), where Julian recorded three guitar tracks, one after another and one on top of another. Again, there is a remarkable richness of timbres., with Lage supplying his own rhythmic base beneath contrapuntal lines. The group's eclecticism is illustrated by However, a piece by saxist Dan Blake which Lage's sleeve-note says "explores the rich synthesis of Afro-pop with Irish fiddle music along with American folk".
Julian composed nine of the twelve tracks on the CD but Freight Train is an old American folky piece which many British listeners will probably remember as the 1957 hit for Chas McDevitt's Skiffle Group with singer Nancy Whiskey. It makes an unexpectedly suitable vehicle for Julian's solo jazz improvisation.
Listening Walk conjures up the sounds of a busy railway station, with all the instruments contributing to the bustling ambience. Cocoon is a complete contrast: a tranquil piece with the cello creating a melncholy feeling. Lage plays Autumn Leaves as an acoustic guitar solo, with delicate control of dynamics and poetic expressiveness. Iowa Taken sets Julian with just bass and drums accompaniment. This becomes one of the jazziest tracks on the album, which closes with Telegram, a piece with hints of bluegrass.
This album is by no means entirely devoted to jazz. In fact it contains hints of all kinds of music, but they cohere into a unified and deeply satisfying whole.