A full house of instrumental music lovers was treated to an impressive set of sophisticated compositions when guitar phenom Julian Lage and his bandmate (and secret weapon) double bassist Jorge Roeder played the first of four Spoleto shows Friday evening.
The instantly likable Lage and Roeder, who surprisingly had never played out as a duo prior to their Spoleto gigs, took the stage at 5 p.m. and played nine pieces (eight originals and one jazz-blues traditional tune) over the course of an hour and 20 minutes.
Refreshingly humble and gracious, the duo covered a lot of ground. With ease, finesse, and excellent technique, they took us on a colorful ride through the lush musical landscapes of folk, classical, jazz, country, and classical. Though improvisation was a predominate aspect of all the pieces, the playing was clean, tight, and extraordinarily together.
Peppered in was an obvious and most appreciated sense of humor. Lage and Roeder’s musical and personal camaraderie was apparent as was their joy for their craft. The two radiated with inspiration, and both the technical and the creative juices were in full effect, which made the performance a special, expansive treat for all in attendance. Art has the power to raise the consciousness of an entire room; these lads were plugged directly into this energy.
After the second number, the soft spoken Lage introduced himself and Roeder and thanked their audience for coming. They proceeded to play their most interesting and dynamic piece, “Clarity.” A wild country-tinged jazz piece in G major followed, and Roeder shined bright with a really nice solo. Moods and colors came and went, but things never got dark. Almost everything — even the more fierce stuff — stayed in the light.
Lage, on a sunburst acoustic hollow body, was skilled beyond his 22 years. He is well on his way with a voice of his own, but snippets of Django Reinhardt and Tony Rice could be heard here and there. Also abound was just the right amount of Marc Ribot wackiness, and some wide interval Allan Holdsworth stuff. His playing was right in the middle, not too yin and not too yang. His quiet demeanor might suggest a lighter touch, but his playing was quite balanced.
Lage’s chordal work and his incredibly unique writing were high points, as was his overall positive vibe. If his youth shone through at all it was in his soloing. Though quite adept, much of it was standard issue 32nd note chromatic burning — a trap a lot of jazz shedders and country pickers find extremely hard to avoid, especially with the faster tempos. Many times, phrasing is a maturation issue. The older a player gets, the more he knows you can do more with three notes and some breath that you can with one hundred notes at break neck pace. A big bag of chops is very nice, but nothing beats a melody that hits you right in the heart.
It would also be nice to hear him on a Martin or something with a little more low end, and some higher action. Though the hollow body cut through clearly, some rich bottom would have been enjoyable.
The MVP of the evening would have to go to bassist Roeder. Just about everything about his playing was great. His tone was superb. His intonation (especially with the lower notes) was solid. His touch was just right. His soloing was phenomenal. His rhythmic and his tonal phrasing was quite tasty. His technique was strong, but his creativity really shined through.
Roeder didn’t come across as mechanical at all. His playing was fluid and mellifluous and predicated on a natural melodic sense. Most impressive was how he accommodated the guitar. He played atypical stuff underneath, but it always made Lage shine. This is the mark of an excellent bass player.
The two lads smiled politely and signed copies Lage’s new CD in the lobby after the show, giving their fingers a rest before they burned it up again at the 7 p.m. showing. Two thumbs way up.