Nels Cline / Julian Lage


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As tempting as it may be to imagine two stellar guitarists meeting for the first time in a recording studio and just going for it, that isn't quite what happens here -- even though the sense of spontaneity and energy at work on Room would suggest just that. Nels Cline and Julian Lage, guitarists from two very different backgrounds (and generations) had played together live before this date. The former has been making music since the 1970s in settings ranging from fiery vanguard jazz to punk to roots rock and more. Lage is a prodigy coming into his own. He has worked in jazz and classical music and has been celebrated largely as a traditionalist. On Room, each player brought only an acoustic and electric guitar; there are no effects pedals. The recordings were done absolutely live. Both men brought material, but it's not the formal compositions that delight so much as the kinetic dialogue that occurs within them. The simple, nearly classical counterpoint and harmonics at work in the brief opener "Abstract 12" build on a recurring pattern which gives birth to intimate scalar interplay -- some of it quite free. "Racy" employs twin leads in a knotty arpeggiated intro before asserting a funky bass vamp and some gorgeous back and forth soloing. "Whispers from Eve" is an utterly lovely acoustic ballad; the chords shimmer and lilt while the solos draw from jazz and folk in equal measures. "Blues, Too" nods toward Jim Hall in its articulation of micro-harmonics inside dissonant architecture. "Odd End" walks a tightrope between Django Reinhardt's swing, modern instrumental folk, and blues. Its twinned chromatic arpeggios across octaves are as dazzling as the dynamic in the changes. The set's longest cut, the suite-like "Freesia/The Bond," is also its strongest. Though the pace is anything but slow, it gradually draws on everything from chamber music to post-bop, Celtic folk to swing, transcendent modernism to even pop in a glorious labyrinthine architecture that showcases the inherent differences in each player's individual styles. Its conclusion is euphoric in its lyricism. For all its starkness, on Room these players not only support one another, they create space for reconsideration and expansion. Cline takes Lage further out onto the improvisational ledge than he's ever been before, while Lage draws Cline toward a sense of lyricism and restraint he hasn't employed in many years. Room betrays no hesitation, displays no false moves, offers no space for safety. And that's just how this duo likes it. It is abundant in its offer of pleasure for fans of guitar jazz and it may even hold wider appeal for those who are drawn to in-the-moment musical creation.

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