By Steve Feeney
The disc is manna for lovers of assertive electric guitar, played by one of today’s top practitioners, in an unadorned trio setting.
Love Hurts, Julian Lage Trio (Mack Avenue Records)
I’ve had the chance to review guitarist Julian Lage in concert several times in recent years. Whether performing with a trio or in duo and quartet settings with Nels Cline, the youthful virtuoso has crafted a distinctive voice that is not only comfortable with a broad range of jazz styles but can handle traditions beyond any simple genre confines.
For his latest release, Love Hurts, Lage has formed a new trio that includes bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, the latter long known as one third of The Bad Plus. Lage characterizes the disc as the final entry in a trilogy of trio efforts (Arclight and Modern Love are its predecessors) that set out to explore mid-twentieth-century jazz and pop musical sources.
The new disc’s terrain focuses on the standard repertoire, its aesthetic approach falling somewhere between the Americana-friendly Bill Frisell and recent efforts by the trio Thumbscrew. Love Hurts’ rough energy, displayed on mostly first-takes in the studio, also suggests some of John Scofield’s better efforts. But Lage’s growing virtuosity, on a Gretsch Duo Jets guitar this time around, marks this album as the 31-year-old’s strongest recording to date.
Compositions by (or associated with) jazz masters Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, and Jimmy Guiffre sit alongside pieces by such early alt-country stars as the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison. A couple of Lage originals round out this varied, but still cohesive, set of tunes.
The trio captures both the edgy and playful feel of vintage Ornette Coleman with its version of “Tomorrow is the Question.” Lage’s keen, technically sophisticated approach is highlighted by King’s shuffling beat. A walking bass line from Roeder propels a let-it-loose extended solo from the leader. The three converse with spry intensity to the end of what is a brief but exciting workout on the harmolodic fringe.
Jimmy Guiffre’s “Trudgin’” triggers a mysterious lope through the creative depths of Lage’s imagination. Nasty chords and fluttering digressions test the strength of the guitarist’s portentous arrangement.
The two Jarrett pieces, “The Windup” and “Encore (A),” reflect the pianist’s Ornette-ish early work, which freely referenced Latin and funk rhythms. King and Roeder tap into the elemental simmer of these arrangements — Lage adds plenty of rich and expressive flavoring.
A similar meditation is undertaken on Lage’s own “In Circles.” Brush and cymbal flourishes by King bookend a piece that slowly builds toward a thunderous crescendo. The leader’s “Lullaby” sensitively visits an elemental form, but keeps the faith with the album’s affection for expansive arrangements.
The title performance, on a tune from the Everly’s repertoire, gives the ballad a raw, electric edge, an infusion of drama that reaches a tough poignancy. A refreshing take on the chestnut “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” has Lage and Roeder playfully twining around the familiar melody. Roy Orbison’s “Crying” closes the disc on a tender note — though Lage’s arrangement tosses in some welcome grit.
Lage has referred to the tunes on Love Hurts as tending toward the “effusive.” This should be understood as a positive — his excess energy is manna for lovers of assertive electric guitar, played by one of today’s top practitioners, in an unadorned trio setting.
Steve Feeney is a Maine native and attended schools in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He has a Master of Arts Degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. He began reviewing music on a freelance basis for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in 1995. He was later asked to also review theater and dance. Recently, he has added BroadwayWorld.com as an outlet and is pleased to now contribute to Arts Fuse.