Julian Lage

March 18, 2025
7:30 pm
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Hailed as one of the most prodigious guitarists of his generation and “highest category of improvising musicians" (New Yorker), Julian Lage has spent more than a decade searching through the myriad strains of American musical history via impeccable technique, free association and a spirit of infinite possibility.

Julian Lage’s vivid, wondrously textured new album Speak To Me offers a series of dispatches from his ongoing search for narrative beyond words. Intimate in tone and capacious in intention, the album represents some of the most ambitious music Lage has documented to date. Its originals travel a wide range of American music, and delight in the deliberate crossing of wires between gospel hymn and rural blues, California singer-songwriter sunshine and skronky jazz.

One piece evokes the motion of a river (“Nothing Happens Here”), another finds Lage bringing visceral free-jazz abandon to a tricky corkscrew of a surf-rock theme (“Speak To Me”). The songs may diverge from the orderly verse/chorus exposition of pop, but their melodies are earworms nonetheless. Each is laced with emotional undercurrents of hope, restlessness, doubt; a few of them, like the pensive “Omission” and incredibly slow “Serenade,” are notable for dramatic human pauses. Other tunes slide around, taking sudden fishtail turns.

Speak To Me showcases the guitarist and composer in a variety of settings, including solo acoustic, duo, his accustomed trio with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, and a larger ensemble with keyboards (from Kris Davis and Patrick Warren) and woodwinds (Levon Henry).It’s Lage’s fourth effort for Blue Note, and it’s part of a torrent of creative activity that includes his participation in Charles Lloyd’s Trio of Trios project and records with Terri Lynn Carrington, John Zorn, and Cautious Clay.

Speak To Me was produced by Joe Henry, the singer, songwriter, and producer responsible for landmark albums by Solomon Burke, Allen Toussaint, and many others. When Henry heard Lage’s songs in rough form –many as voice memos from his phone – he says he was immediately captivated by the challenge of the project: “For me it became ‘How can we make a record where Julian is improvising throughout, as is his gift, while we’re also attending to the song?’ Everything had to exist in service to the song form.”

This, Lage says, was what he wanted as well.

“Throughout my life, I’ve always responded to music that has a narrative quality to it,” Lage says, explaining that he sees his recent compositions as less a departure than an extension of originals from previous albums, notably his 2021 Blue Note debut Squint. “I believe there is a kind of connective tissue that music has, and it’s important, and it’s fun to cultivate.”

The songs that make up Speak To Me have this quality in abundance, along with broadly lyrical melodies that move with serene grace on the acoustic meditations, or a reckless savagery on rhythm-forward tracks like the shuffling “76.” Lage wrote them during an unexpected torrent of inspiration in the early months of 2023, writing music at a feverish pace without stopping to think about instrumentation or anything else.

Lage’s writing jag coincided with a long-planned European tour with his trio. The guitarist recalls it as a kind of dream. “I just wrote constantly… Without intending to do it, I got incredibly into composing. I would write music while waiting for a plane, then we’d get to a hotel and I’d immediately start editing. Then I’d write more. Every day was like this.”

Lage says that as the tour got underway, he realized that the performances offered a rare chance to workshop this new material. He allows that some tunes did need it: Though the Speak To Me tunes are straightforward (Lage says they each fit on a single page of manuscript paper), many of them rely on intermittent recurring details, like stop-time hits or sudden shifts in tempo, that add suspense. Those needed some rehearsal; over time, the trio’s interplay became an extension of what was written.

“We’ve always done long sound checks,” Lage says, “just to make sure it feels right before a performance. On this tour, because I was writing so much, I’d show up and I’d say “OK, we’ve got 30 songs to go through. And we did it. Dave and Jorge became integral to shaping the songs. We all got into the music beyond the notes, you know, ‘what’s the signature of this tune, what’s it saying?’ That’s one of the things I love about the record. We were at the 10th iteration of most of these tunes by the time we pressed record.”

Speak To Me was recorded quickly, over a few days. Instead of pre-production, Lage and Henry maintained a steady electronic volley of discussion about tone and temperament and mission for months ahead of the sessions. When Lage was frustrated that a song he’d written didn’t align with the others, he’d send a demo to Joe. “I’d say, ‘I’m about to throw this one out. Is it part of the storytelling we’re trying to do with the other pieces?’ Several times I’d tell him I didn’t think a tune belonged. And he’d tell me that they did – he rescued a few tunes that way.”

“That,” Lage continues, “showed me how Joe holds a space for things to happen. Sometimes that means getting everyone out of the way, or protecting the tune from someone getting in the way. It’s like he had a forcefield around the project.”

Lage pauses to marvel at how Henry managed to shape the vibe of Speak To Me without speaking much at all. “Ever so discreetly, he would guide things. He helped me to let go and kept my focus on reinforcing the musical qualities of the songs. He stood with the songs.”

Julian Lage • Speak To Me • Release Date: March 1, 2024

Julian Lage

March 18, 2025
7:30 pm
Buy Tickets

This concert is unfortunately CANCELLED

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