View With a Room

Julian Lage

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View With a Room Review

by Thom Jurek

Guitarist and composer Julian Lage realizes an ambition on View with a Room, 15 months after 2021's Squint, his Blue Note debut. Re-engaging his trio with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, the guitarist sets out to answer a long-held musical question: "Can you have lush orchestration combined with an organic sense of improvisation and the agility of a small ensemble?" He discovered clues in studying the electric guitar's history on recordings by Charlie Christian, Jimmy Bryant, and George Barnes, all of whom were masters of dynamic, texture, tone, and harmony. Lage wasn't interested in increasing his ensemble's size, but he did feel a need for an additional voice as balance. He recruited friend and occasional collaborator, guitar icon Bill Frisell. He appears on seven of these ten originals. They developed a musical vocabulary rich in influential references from other sources too: the Beach Boys, George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, and Keith Jarrett's now-storied American and European quartets. The album was produced by Lage's singer/songwriter and spouse Margaret Glaspy.

The first track, "Tributary," opens with lush chords and subtle, electronically backmasked guitar. Paced by Roeder's upright bass (he co-composed it), the two guitarists entwine, creating a striking, yet gentle lyricism amid airy textures and an Americana-tinged atmosphere that offers delicate detail; its controlled articulations resist any temptation to overplay. It's followed by the trio's "Word for Word," that weds melodic post-bop to canny Western swing. "Auditorium," with Frisell, is a set highlight that readily reflects the influence of Bryant's fleet, percussive arpeggios in an expansive harmonic palette that reaches across country-pop, roots rock, and crunchy, contemporary rhythms with resonant harmony. "Echo" -- co-written with Roeder -- emerges from a prominent bass figure and mid-range guitar drones to meld lush, crystalline tones in a languid tempo that recalls cinema cues inside a poignant melody. "Chavez" is uptempo. The quartet references hard bop, swing, surf, and exotica with Wes Montgomery-esque octave interplay. King's double-time snare is positively joyous pacing the other instruments. The trio's "Castle Park" melds fingerpopping post-bop in a fingerpicked melody that touches on flamenco, blues, and modal jazz. "Temple Steps” showcases Frisell playing baritone guitar as it melds reggae and a country-blues shuffle. The quartet's "Lift Every Voice and Sing" is the longest cut at just over five minutes, and the most exploratory. The guitarists' interplay is at once instinctive and inquisitive as it moves through traces of classical, folk, Duane Eddy, and vintage '50s pop. Closer "Fairbanks" -- also performed by the quartet -- is uptempo and breezy, fueled by King's insistent shuffling backbeats. The guitarists go at each other entwining rockabilly, Chicago blues, psychedelia, country boogie, improvisation, dubby reggae, and swinging hard bop. Whether or not Lage answers his own questions on View with a Room isn't one listeners can readily answer. Instead, we can evaluate the quality of the canny musicianship and tunes on offer while absorbing the abundant pleasure this exercise in collaborative spark provides.

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