In a conversation between Dave Douglas and Marc Ribot on the “A Noise From the Deep” podcast, Ribot explained the difference between jazz and rock artists: jazz artists always give the impression that they have all day, even if they have an eight-bar solo; rock artists seem to think they need to say everything, right now, even if they have ten minutes to solo. Julian Lage is a jazz musician, and packs an enormous amount of songcraft into the compact songs on Arclight without losing any sense of spontaneity or improvisational excitement.
The trio on Arclight is Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums and vibraphone along with Lage on guitar. Given the tightness of the songs (the longest one here clock in at around 4:00), it’s also worth mentioning producer Jesse Harris, who came to these sessions from more of a singer-songwriter background than a jazz background. Lage himself has certainly kept his jazz bona fides through collaborations with Fred Hersch and Eric Harland, among others, while moving in some less straight-ahead jazz directions through collaborations with Chris Eldridge and his own solo work. Bill Frisell’s music (which Kenny Wollesen plays an important part in) is a relevant comparison, as is Jim Hall’s (who led a trio with Colley on bass and collaborated with Lage at the Newport Jazz Fest in 2013). So there are a number of relevant background comparisons here, and the trio has been playing together since at least 2014 to build their rapport, but the bottom line is that the music on Arclight sounds fantastic and generally pairs very nicely with a relaxed Saturday morning. Some highlights:
Most of the tunes on the album are Lage originals, including great new tunes like “Supera”, with a bouncy, almost Caribbean feel, and “Prospero”, with a middle eastern feel in the guitar lines. The Lage original “Ryland” is reprised from his 2015 solo album World’s Fair, but with a very different feel on this trio version. Both are beautiful, but the version on World’s Fair is a quiet and relaxed affair. Lage has been playing with the arrangement of “Ryland” and moving closer to the version that shows up on Arclight, even in a solo format; the trio version here is a beautiful, spacious arrangement with a much more driving ending than in its original, solo incarnation. In addition to the originals on Arclight, the trio takes on some unexpected covers. On of the album’s catchiest melodies is on “Nocturne”, which is a not very well-known tune from the 1930s by Spike Hughes (featuring a great Coleman Hawkins solo at about the halfway point). Lage’s take on this tune slows the tempo a bit and builds on the melancholy feel in the original, with Wollesen’s vibraphone adding to the guitar’s melody line:
Wollesen’s vibraphone shows up on several tunes including “Nocturne” and “Supera”, to great, subtle effect, adding to Lage’s melodic line and providing a nice extra texture to the tunes here.
Arclight also includes a notable cover of WC Handy’s “Harlem Blues”, with a decidedly upbeat feel. Wollesen’s drumming starting at about 0:40 is particularly fun, and he adds a lot of interesting background percussion underneath Lage’s melodic line:
The tunes on Arclight are compact and melodic, flying by in just a few minutes while the trio builds up some beautiful music and great interaction among the musicians. As always, Julian Lage has come up with an exciting and original new sound with this new record, drawing on the past without mimicking or ignoring the music that is going on around him by his peers. Arclight will be in heavy rotation after just a few listens as these tunes sink in and quickly grow on you.