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Julian Lage - Speak to Me (Blue Note)

1 March 2024

Guitarist Julian Lage spent his last three albums establishing a distinctive trio voice, one rooted in jazz but encompassing rock, country, folk, and any other music Lage can absorb into his aesthetic. For Speak to Me, he expands on that vision, both musically and in personnel. While retaining the stalwart rhythm section of bassist Joerge Roeder and drummer Dave King, Lage and producer Joe Henry bring in some new ringers, including pianist Kris Davis, keyboardist Patrick Warren, and Henry’s son Levon on saxophone and clarinet. More importantly, Lage and Henry plot a more divergent course for the music, worrying less about genre than about melody and how best for the players to bring it to life.

Henry clearly gets what Lage and his sidefolk are about, giving them sympathetic, even empathetic production. Thus the record can go from skronky jazz rock (“Shuffle”) to warm folk rock (“Omission”) to a smoky jazz ballad (“Serenade”) without sounding like they’re part of a “various artists” compilation. The variety continues, with “Two in One” twisting the blues, “As It Were” jumping head first into straight jazz, and the title track pulling in soul jazz, with guitar replacing the Hammond as lead noise. “76” adds free jazz accents (courtesy of Davis and Levon) to shuffling blues rock, while “Tiburon” injects a bolt of rock energy into mellow jazz chording. “Myself Around You” is a solo acoustic tour de force that marries fifties jazz and classical music like they’d always been one, while “Nothing Happens Here” sends the record off with strumming acoustic guitar, splashy cymbals, and snaky alto sax – a twilight benediction.

No matter the style, Lage always plays with conviction and attention to detail; never does anything sound out of place, even if it doesn’t sound like what came before it. Speak to Me shows off Lage’s range and his ability to nail everything without becoming too diverse for his own good – an unqualified triumph.