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CD Review - Julian Lage 'Sounding Point'

Julian Lage shines on
Julian Lage shines on "Sounding Point." (By Jimmy Katz)

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Friday, March 27, 2009

JULIAN LAGE "Sounding Point" Emarcy

JULIAN LAGE was just 20 when he recorded "Sounding Point," his first album under his own name. The guitar prodigy played with Carlos Santana at age 8, recorded with David Grisman at 10, and toured with Gary Burton at 15. But he delayed making his own recording until now, and that patience is obvious in music that is astonishingly understated for a youngster with such obvious talent and ambition. Lage can play fast, difficult passages when the need arises, but he's interested in other things.

The album begins with "Clarity," a piece Lage wrote for Burton's 2005 album, "Next Generation." In the four years since, the composer has extensively reworked the tune, retaining the attractive melody but framing it with a dreamy introduction, free-form digressions and counterpoint lines from soprano saxophonist Ben Roseth and cellist Aristides Rivas.

Those two are part of Lage's working band, which is featured on most of the new disc. The presence of Venezuela's Rivas, Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder and Colombian percussionist Tupac Mantilla lends a Latin flavor to the quintet, though more from a chamber-music perspective than from a dance-band approach.

On three other tracks, Lage joins banjoist Béla Fleck and mandolinist Chris Thile. The trio's jaunty, string-band version of indie rocker Elliott Smith's "Alameda" is a welcome indication that Lage is willing to think outside the same old jazz box. The guitarist joins his frequent collaborator, pianist Taylor Eigsti, on the unaccompanied duet "Tour One." In all these different formats, Lage's well-developed personality shines through. Here's a jazz newcomer more interested in elegance than in flash, more interested in instrumental storytelling than in virtuosity.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Monday at Blues Alley (202-337-4141, http://www.bluesalley.com). Shows start at 8 and 10 p.m.


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