on life, music etc beyond mainstream




(This is the 2nd article in a series of pieces devoted to jazz pianists I consider to be highly underrated: )


The first time I saw Art Lande with the Rubisa Patrol was in of all places, Cotati California, a small college town about 45 minutes from San Francisco. I had brought my fiancée and was sitting with her in the legendary Inn of Beginning, trying to explain to her what she was about to hear. I remember telling her that the music was lyrical, but there was also an unpredictable wackiness in his approach, and at times his music could get very weird. A few minutes later Art and the band appeared on stage. This was the original ECM band consisting of Bill Douglas on bass, Mark Isham (who went on to become a solo artist and well known film composer,) on trumpet, and Glen Cronkite on drums. Art was sitting at this old, funky upright piano on the stage where rock greats such as Neil Young and Van Morrison had recently made impromptu appearances. Art turned to the small audience and said, “I’m Art Lande, this is the Rubisa Patrol, and I hope this music isn’t too weird for YOU!” And he pointed right at my fiancée. 


What I most remember from that night is Bill and Mark playing a duet on two shakahachis, which suddenly morphed into a samurai sword fight. At one point the music was so fierce, the keyboard lid fell, almost squashing Art’s hands. Art immediately responded by deliberately banging the lid up and down as a kind of impromptu percussion instrument. This clever adaptation captures the essence of the man, who is able to be present and creatively respond  to musical happenstance with lightening quick reflexes.


Although I never took a formal lesson from him, Art has been a kind of mentor to me over the years. I have probably seen him live more than any other pianist. In fact, I just saw him play a marvelous Mothers Day concert last Sunday with the irrepressible singer/songwriter Kate McGarry and her guitarist husband, Keith Ganz, (who has to be one of the most underrated guitarists on the planet- check them out.)


What draws me to Art’s playing is his originality and spontaneity. I’ve listened to the man live and on record for over 40 years, and I don’t think I’ve heard a single “lick.” If one goes all the way back to his (vinyl only) first release, The Eccentricities of Earl Dant (an anagram of his name,) one finds his original style already evolved to the point of being recognizable as pure Lande: the lyricism, the idiosyncratic humor, the rhythmic drive, odd clusters, lines that dance, swirl and unexpectedly veer towards the edge of tonality, yet always evincing the trademark warmth and humanity that makes Art so unique. 


His harmonic concept is obviously influenced by Monk as well as Bill Evans, but equally influenced by classical composers, such as Bartok, Bach and Debussy, not to mention his studies with composer/performer/writer, W.A Mathieu. He is listed in Wikipedia as one of the founders of what is known as “chamber jazz.” Knowing Art, I’m sure he would hate that label, because it truly limits the scope of his musical curiosity and invention, which has led him down many paths, often away from the ECM sound he was most known for in the late 70s. 


Art only made a few albums for ECM. The first was a duet album with Jan Garbarek. Red Lanta (1974 – the title is another anagram of Arts name,) is a landmark album in the classic chamber jazz mold. The tunes are airy and light on the surface, yet reveal hidden depths –  this intimate recording captures a casual rapport between these two great players, both of whom had a signature sound right out of the gate. Years after it’s release, upon mentioning the album to Art, and telling him how much it meant to me, his response was, “Oh, that old thing?” 


The two Rubisa Patrol albums are ECM classics. The writing is mostly Art’s, and it certainly fits into the chamber jazz setting. After that, Art was the featured pianist on Gary Peacock’s Shift in the Wind, a trio album with drummer Elliot Zigmund. A far more energetic album with some free play interspersed with Gary and Art’s compositions, I consider it to be among the best trio albums in the early ECM catalog. There was also an experimental record with Mark Isham, entitled We Begin. Combining Art’s piano with Mark Isham’s trumpet and synthesizer skills, it’s somewhat of an oddity, but one that grows on the listener with repeated plays – in retrospect, while the 80s synth sounds date it somewhat, it’s still a very forward looking recording in many respects.


I consider the album, Skylight to be one of the finest examples of “chamber jazz” in the entire ECM catalog. Here the trio, consisting of Lande, Paul McCandless and vibist Dave Samuels pick up where they left off on McCandless’s first solo release, All the Mornings Bring (Vanguard – a great recording, finally released on CD), with more of the same: superb compositions and incredibly intuitive ensemble playing. I consider both of these albums to be essential listening in this genre. 


Seeing Art live, one never knows what to expect. Back in the late 70s, Art would sometimes hold court at the Great American Music Hall for several nights, each night having a different theme. One night it was lyrical duets with Paul McCandless (it’s amazing that after decades of performing together as a duo, Paul and Art have yet to release a duet album), the next, the Rubisa Patrol playing nothing but waltzes. Another night there were mattresses and blankets on the floor; the lights were down low onstage and everyone in the band was lying down. Occasionally, a somnambulant figure would rise in the darkness and sleepwalk to an instrument – slow abstract lullabies emerged. 


Art is also a literary kind of guy. He often reads poetry aloud while improvising. Sometimes, he just makes stuff up. I remember a night where he told a spontaneous tale of an alien sneaking into a house and raiding the fridge- his alien voice was hysterical. On rare occasions he has been known to sing one of his own humorous and quirky songs.


Eventually Art left the Bay Area for Switzerland where he was active as a teacher and performer for a number of years. For some reason that period isn’t documented by any recordings I am aware of. He was no longer with a label at that point – in fact he has continued to be an independent artist to this day. Art eventually returned to the states where he made his home in Boulder Colorado. At 71, he has been more active than ever – he currently plays in at least 6 bands and still records and tours regularly.


Art likes to pair up with young musicians – occasionally as the drummer rather than pianist. One such band is called the Russian Dragon Band (Rushing/Dragging – a drummers joke?) Another group with Art in the drummer’s seat is the Boy Girl Band, a group entirely  devoted to playing completely improvised music.  He is also featured on drums in the experimental group Funko Moderno, a postmodern band that plays music that supposedly originates in the fictitious country of “Italavia.” It’s a premise that allows for funk, bebop, tongue in cheek jazz themes and Slavic music influences to collide in unpredictable ways.  


Art also guests on countless albums. One such example is Sioux Country, by sax player/educator Pete Sommers – It is a fine duo album. Featuring Pete’s compositions, it’s not unlike Red Lanta in tone, although it feels distinctly American, coming as it is from the southwest. Art also has an ongoing series of free improvisation recordings with sax player, Mark Miller. Seeing the two together live, one can expect an evening of musical mayhem. Occasionally, Art will whip out his trusty melodica and perform as a 2nd horn player. The two are good friends – it’s an anything goes musical situation that often becomes comically theatrical.


Art has also had a special musical relationship with French/Vietnamese guitarist/composer Nguyen Le. Appearing in the mid 80s on both of Le’s first two albums (Universal – both excellent) , Miracles and Zanzibar (with Paul McCandless), and his superb ACT recording, Walking on the Tiger’s Tail (also with McCandless,) there is an electric current running between these two distinctly unique artists – their highly contrasting styles and temperaments seem to bring out the best in one another. In 2008, while recovering from a bad breakup, I took a trip to the southwest where I followed Art and Nguyen Le on their mini tour of the Southwest. The first concert of the tour was a house concert in Boulder. I remember sitting in a small living room crammed with around 12 guests, looking at a grand piano and next to it, an electric guitar, a MacBook Pro on a music stand and on the floor, a pedalboard filled with blinking lights – I asked myself, “How on earth is this going to work?” What followed was a surprising mix of atmospheric sounds, ambient jazz, and world music. It was a magnificent, unforgettable performance. 


That’s the thing about Art Lande: he has an insatiable musical curiosity. His work embodies the perfect balance of freedom and form. He supports creativity in others and loves to collaborate. His collaborations even go beyond his musical associations: In 2011, with the help of two graphic artists and an editor/writer, he created his own tarot deck. The “Art tarot” is the fruit of decades of study and 6 years of development. The goal was to strip away the medieval archaisms of the original decks, cutting to the essence of the archetypes and energies represented by each card. If you’re interested in tarot as a tool for self transformation, it’s worth tracking down. 


Art’s albums are worth tracking down as well. Unfortunately, they’re  not always easy to find. Art cares not a whit about self promotion. He never speaks of new releases – he doesn’t use the internet at all. The only way to find new music by this artist is to visit his website (which he proclaims he has nothing to do with,) or do a Google search. Besides the ones mentioned in the article, I also recommend checking out the following:


Melissa Spins Away (vinyl only,) Great American Music Hall label, solo piano (an album of jazz waltzes – gorgeous.)

Friday the 13th- Vartan Jazz, music of Monk-solo piano  (very cool album- was supposed to be a live album but something went wrong and wound up recorded live in the studio.)

Shapeshifter- Synergy Music- original compositions, with Paul McCandless, Peter Barshay and Alan Hall

Recurring Dream – Mike McGinnis with Art and Steve Swallow (they just released a followup album)

Nemesis- Songlines- Mark Nodwell, Drew Greiss, Tom Rainey, Doug Young, Ron Miles (Marc Nodwell’s compositions are notable and it’s an SACD)

Polar Opposites- Dave Peterson guitar, Art Lande piano (good guitar player, nice tunes. Mostly duos, but I think theres a rhythm section on a few tunes as well.)

For a complete discography of Art’s recordings both as leader and sideman, including the aforementioned bands and albums, (some of which are only available as download on his site) and touring schedule, check out 

2018 8 Mai

MIM Museum, Phoenix AZ

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A hidden gem, the Musical Instruments Museum is the most comprehensive museum of instruments in the world. The museum’s inventory is so large, there is only space to display about 1/2 of the 15,000 instruments in their entire collection.

I have no idea what this astounding museum is doing in Phoenix AZ, but it’s amazing not only in the breadth and scope of the collection, but in the ingenious way the museum presents the instruments and associated music.

On entry, the visitor is issued the usual headphones and sound producing box, except in actuality, there is nothing usual about it. Each exhibit has a large video screen, demonstrating the various instruments on display. Using Bluetooth technology, the moment the visitor stands in front of the exhibit, the sound of the video syncs to the headset. As soon as the user moves away, the sound fades down, until it’s reactivated by the next exhibit. It works seamlessly. These are high quality audio/video clips presented in stereo. Many are rare field recordings. There is almost no narration, except when the occasional scholar explains the historic significance of say, the Japanese Noh play, or sheds light on the wedding music of Tajikistan.



Downstairs one can spend hours exploring just the pop, rock, world and new music exhibits. This exhibit focuses on famous stars to represent certain genres or periods. It must’ve been difficult to decide which pop/rock star to pick to represent an entire musical genre or period within that genre. They do a pretty good job, but it’s simply impossible to decide who to pick for say, the entire 80s pop era. (They picked the Police.) Johnny Cash, The Carter family, Dolly Parton (and a few others)  for country. But why in God’s name pick The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band over The Band to represent the early roots of Americana? Oh well. Elvis of course, but also Duane Eddy and Roy Orbison. You’ll find John Lennon’s piano on display, as well as Pablo Casals’s cello, Clara Rockmore’s theremin (!) and a very cool exhibit on Kronos Quartet. (On the other hand, almost an entire wall devoted to Taylor Swift – Really?)

They also try to include various stars of popular world styles, such as Cuban music (Tito Puente,) Qwali music maestro, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, as well as sitar master, the late Ravi Shankar (and his daughter Anousha) for Indian music. In addition to the pop, world and classical stars, there’s an amazing room filled with historical orchestrions and other fascinating automated instruments built over the centuries.

There’s also an interactive room filled with instruments that one can touch and play.

But all of this is just the warmup to the main event, which is upstairs. The MIMs collection of world instruments is simply staggering. Divided by regions and broken up into countries, it’s a mind blowing experience. We started in Asia exploring Indonesian and other island cultures, dipping into China, Japan and India. The collection is simply too vast to see in a day: we never even got to the America’s, Europe or African collections! My partner called it the Louvre of musical instrument museums, and that about sums it up.

The museum also has an impressive and eclectic concert series as well.






Perhaps my fellow Manafonistas have already discovered this wonderful hour long documentary on Eberhard Weber by Julian Benedikt. It has a lot of great footage from various stages of his career, including a number of things I’ve never seen before, even some casual backstage craziness dating back to his younger days.

I wish I could watch this with some of my German friends, because  the film is mostly in German, with the exception of  some words by Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, the late Michael di Pasqua, Jan Garbarek etc.

Because I have always been such a big admirer of the man and his music, I was very moved by this piece, even without understanding most of the dialogue. It’s a very personal film and covers a lot of ground in just about an hour. It’s been up on Vimeo for about a month. Looks like it was made fairly recently. Highly recommended.


2018 16 Apr

Kristjan Randalu

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Estonian pianist Randalu has always impressed me with his technical mastery and subtle arranging chops, but takes it up another notch on the new ECM release, Absence.

The opening track, Forecast is one of the most stunning pieces I’ve heard in a very long time, starting with an out of time meditative opening, moving into shimmering arpeggios of light with a haunting repeating melody, and suddenly opening up into a powerful piano solo. You can hear the classical inspiration from composers such as Erkki-Sven Tüür and Tõnu Kõrvits, both of whom had been his mentors at one time. This classical harmonic approach serves the music well – it fits in with the ECM aesthetic, yet integrates rigorous classical discipline with spontaneous improvisation in a unique, fresh approach.

Besides his compositional excellence, Randalu is a prodigious improviser. His chemistry with guitarist Ben Monder is palpable here, and drummer Markku Ounaskari’s supple playing is the glue that pulls it all together.

This trio is so dynamic and huge sounding that at first I barely noticed the absence of a bass player. Overall, this album serves up a soft palette of musical colors, veering from the melancholic to the ecstatic, occasionally taking  a detour to some surprisingly dark spaces. Once in a while, the power of this trio comes thru the generally gauzy sonic veils, hinting at what they must sound like live and unleashed. (There are some good videos on YouTube.)

The music flirts with ambient and free playing in a couple places, but Randalu’s sense of structure and form keeps it from becoming diffuse or unfocused.

Music of startling beauty and originality, this album will easily be on my top 10 list for 2018.


2018 15 Apr

New E.S.T live album

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I’m sure that Esborn Svennson’s untimely death affected many Manafonistas and readers – it certainly affected me deeply.

To tell the truth, when I first heard them I was not particularly blown away. Then I bought the American release, Somewhere Else Before, a compilation culled primarily from From Gagarin’s point of View and Good Morning Susie Soho, (both excellent early albums), and I was hooked – I became a rabid fan, buying every subsequent release and eventually collecting their entire catalog. And hungry for more.

So naturally, I responded to the news that ACT is releasing a new live double CD with great joy and expectation. This trio holds a special place in the jazz universe – and in my heart. They were a singular force of nature- sadly, I never got to see them live.

This is one of those rare trios, the kind whose chemistry can only come about by growing up playing music together. I am looking forward to this one with great anticipation.


2018 31 Mrz

Andy Sheppard Quartet

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What is it about this quartet that makes them so special and such a pleasure to listen to? First of all, it’s the chemistry. These four players know just how to play together. Total compatibility. Then I think it’s the honesty. It’s not easy to make simple music this beguiling. It’s not easy to make music this harmonically stripped down, yet so texturally complex and melodically seductive.

At first, I thought, well, it’s so diatonic I will be bored in 10 minutes. But I wasn’t. Was it Andy’s breathy lyricism, or Elvind Aarset’s magical colors? Michel Benita’s sensitive support on bass, or Seb Rochefort’s perfectly intuitive drumming? Whatever it is, I keep finding myself longing for more of this music. Listening on the trail, it reflects the beauty of the natural world, those rare states of consciousness where one experiences the direct apprehension of nature without the descriptive mind having to constantly dialogue about it. That’s what this music does: It sounds like what it is, a direct communication of beauty, reflectiveness, with occasional moments of fire amidst the immense seas of tranquility and melancholy. It’s therapeutic in that it washes the mind clean, a sound purification filter for the soul.

So I checked out the earlier, Surrounded by Sea and found a similar, inviting world. I think of them as bookends, twin worlds, or at least parallel worlds.

Living quite happily with both of these, I ask fellow manifonistas if this group has any other recordings prior to these two ECM releases, and if so, where I can find them.




I just watched this fantastic documentary last night.  Director Emma Franz lets candid conversations and live footage tell the story in lieu of narration, revealing an artist who has never stood still, constantly reinventing himself yet, paradoxically, always sounding exactly like himself. It’s funny, surprising, occasionally dramatic, personable and engaging,  just like Bill’s music. A diverse group of great musicians from Bonnie Raitt and Paul Simon to John Zorn, Jim Hall, John Abercrombie and Michael Gibb talk about the universal appeal and influence of Bill’s music. Many of the people he plays with, such as Joey Baron, the late Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and Ron Carter, share stories and thoughts about their collaboration. What emerges is a portrait of one of the most dedicated players/composers alive, who also happens to be one of the nicest guys in the business. Essential viewing.

This film is available for purchase here:

It’s also available for viewing if you’re an Amazon Prime member. (It’s probably rentable as well.)


2018 13 Mrz

For Misty

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Beyond the lost past,
Beyond all fading memory,
Beyond the smell of decaying leaves
And the half remembered taste of warm bread one winter’s morning in late December,
and how you laughed in delight at our delight,
I love you
Beyond the frail tendrils of dying cells
Flaming out in super novas of forgotten embraces
I love you
Beyond the loss of your very self,
And even your own name,
Beyond the loss of your senses,
And the loss of making sense-
And Memories disappearing behind you
Like trains uncoupling and abandoned on empty snow covered tracks,
fading into darkness,
silent and still,
I love you
Beyond hope,
Beyond reason,
Beyond the loss of everything precious,
I love you
Now, now and now and for always,
Beyond time,
Beyond the body,
Beyond unspeakable pain,
Beyond the horrifying recognition of
The broken mind,
The heart is alive, intact
And perfect
This is how I see you,
And I will love and hold you in my heart forever
And always.

2018 8 Mrz

Satie for Two

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Erik Satie has been on my mind lately. I’ve been reading Mary E. Davis’s excellent biography, Erik Satie (Reaktion Books, 2007), as well as listening to and playing some of his music for piano.

Satie was a complex man who struggled with opposing parts of his nature. He was at various times a bohemian, a religious zealot (he formed his own church,) Dadaist, bourgeois wannabe, and on rare occasions, a romantic. Like the late Frank Zappa, he shared a yearning to be taken seriously, injecting satire and humor into his pieces just in case he wasn’t—as if to say, “Hey man, it’s all a joke anyway.” And maybe just because, at heart, he was simply an absurdist.

Satie admired and befriended Debussy, who admired him back and borrowed liberally from him. Debussy proved to be the better orchestrator and a master of the long form, but Satie’s ear-inspired miniatures live on, continuing to delight and baffle musicians and music lovers. Debussy often gets credited for being the first modernist, (as he was in a recent NYT article,) but Satie was playing in the same harmonic sandbox at least a decade before „Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.“ Furthmore, it could be argued that Satie was the first minimalist as well.

One such piece, „Vexations“ was written in answer to his feelings of anger and grief over the loss of his one true love, Suzanne Valadon, an artist and fellow bohemian. Completely taken with the young painter and ex-circus performer, Satie asked her to marry him the day they met. She politely demurred, but shortly after, moved into the room right next door to Satie’s apartment in Montmartre. He called her Biqui and once wrote, “Impossible to stop thinking about your whole being: you are in me complete, everywhere, I see nothing but your exquisite eyes, your gentle hands, and your little child’s feet.“ Their turbulent fling lasted all of 6 months, and after that, it is said Satie never took another lover. Summing up his experience, he said that he believed love to be simply “a sickness of the nerves.”

„Vexations“ is a short, slow little piece of which Satie asks the player to perform no less than 840 times. Last September at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, it was played for almost 20 hours by 20 pianists in something that resembled a marathon relay race or an ancient, esoteric ritual: One by one, as one pianist was finishing their hour of repetitions, another would slowly step up and seamlessly begin the piece over again without missing a beat. Incidentally, just to mess with the player a little more, „Vexations“ is written with strange enharmonic spellings, and no matter how many times it’s played, somehow one still feels it’s anyone’s guess what the next note might be. It is rife with tritones, an interval traditionally thought to be extremely dissonant – every beat contains one. Perhaps this was Satie’s way of venting, or doing penance for his transgressions. (He blamed himself for the falling out with Valadon.)

Satie’s music is full of eccentric directions to the player. One of  the most famous of these is the direction to play a passage “like a nightingale with a toothache.” Satie was also fond of writing little stories beneath the music. Sometimes they were programmatic, other times they were seemingly completely unrelated. The text serves as a subtext that subtly informs the player’s interpretation. At times, while reading these, one gets the sense that a crazy but harmless grandfather is whispering in one’s ear. There’s even a piece which explicitly admonishes the player never to read the text aloud while being performed—because it might precipitate the Apocalypse.

Looking recently for a complete set of Satie’s piano music, I found that there really isn’t one; every “complete set” is missing something. On top of that, there are many posthumously unearthed piano pieces, some of which have only been published in the last 50 years.

I just came across a fairly comprehensive recording of Satie’s piano music, performed by the very gifted Cristina Ariagno. She has the touch and gets the tempos just right, not too slow as many pianists, such as Leeuw, make the mistake of doing, and never rushed. Unfortunately, this collection doesn’t include any of the pieces Satie wrote for 4 hands. In an inspired bit of programming, this set is organized by thematic material (Greek-inspired, Rosicrucian, whimsical humor, Sports and Divertissements, music for theater, etc.) as opposed to the usual chronological order. As such it really sheds light on the different sides of both the man and the artist. (Ms Ariagno also plays the aforementioned Vexations 42 times, filling up disc 6.)

My first introduction to Satie’s music came in the form of  the lovely and appropriately quirky album, The Velvet Gentleman, Music of Erik Satie. Performed by the Camerata Contemporary Chamber Group, this strange and surprisingly beautiful album came out in about 1970; thus far it has never been released in digital form. Capturing both the beauty and humor of his music, it features a number of his most popular pieces and some lesser known compositions,  arranged for a small chamber orchestra with Moog synthesizer. It’s a little dated today, but that’s part of its charm. And after all, we’re talking about Erik Satie here, so charm is an essential ingredient.

The Camarata made a couple of other Satie albums. One that’s almost impossible to find (and which I’ve yet to hear,) is called Through the Looking Glass. Another, The Electronic Satie, is available for free in MP3 format here. It’s not nearly as good as The Velvet Gentleman, though, relying far too much on the Moog synthesizer for my tastes.

As I mentioned earlier, Satie struggled to find a sense of artistic legitimacy; he desperately wanted to be respected by his peers. At 39, he went so far as to enroll in the conservative Schola Cantorum to study counterpoint with Vincent D’Indy. After about 5 years of study, he made it through the entire program, securing his degree. But when he went back to composing, although his new pieces were rigorously constructed, employing strict counterpoint in fugal, chorale, or sonata form, he soon realized his music had suffered at the hands of his hard-earned academic rigor. “What on earth have I been doing with D’Indy?” he wrote. “The things I wrote before had such charm! Such depth! And now? How boring and uninteresting!” Eventually, he abandoned these labored efforts and went back to a more natural writing style.

Which reminds me of a story:

I once had a composition teacher who, the first time I came to see him, asked me to play for him. After my nervous performance, he said, “There once was a man who lived in the middle of the forest. He built a little cabin in the woods, where he cleared the trees and planted a garden. He lived in the middle of this woodland paradise with his lovely wife. But it wasn’t enough for him. Instead of staying in his peaceful forest retreat, he went on a quest, looking for answers, the holy grail, more knowledge—even he wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Meanwhile, his beautiful wife sat alone in his secluded forest home, pining away for him.”

It appears eventually Satie returned home to a tiny suburban retreat outside Paris, where he set up house with his muse and continued to compose. For the last 20 odd years of his life, he never let anyone enter his apartment, which after his death, amidst the squalor, was found to be filled with drawings, writings, and quite a number of unpublished pieces, both unfinished and complete.

2018 19 Feb

Local Boy Makes Good

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Julian Lage was just a kid when I first heard him play, maybe around 12 or 13. He would get onstage with some heavyweight at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival and just blow everyone away. His dad took him to all the shows, where he met everybody and often got to jam with them onstage. He was a bonafide wunderkind.

At the tender age of 15, Julian went on the road with Gary Burton and the rest is, as they say, history. He has since released 6 solo albums and it turned out that not only could the kid play – he can write.

I saw him for the first time as leader of a trio a couple years ago with Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Dave Holland, Charles Lloyd and Richie Beirach were among the jazz luminaries in the audience, but it didn’t faze the 28 year old prodigy: he played a confident and loose set, smiling much of the time as he performed his no tricks guitar pyrotechnics without breaking a sweat.

I just saw him last night at the Raven Theater in Healdsburg CA with his current touring trio, bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Erick Doob. They tore it up, playing tunes from his rootsy and diverse Arclight as well as the new release, Modern Lore.

What I get from watching Lage is he has this great love affair going on with the guitar. He makes it sing, growl, scream, shout and croon. He played slow, slinky ballads and wild uptempo Ornette inspired free pieces, and just about everything in between with aplomb. He played the craziest intro I’ve ever heard to the old standard I’ll Be Seeing You, sounding as my guitarist friend said, Bach on acid. No shit, it really did. He has this way of rocking out, that reminds me of some of the early rock guitar legends, such as Johnny Guitar Watson, and rockabilly maestros such as Carl Perkins, not to mention country (and sometimes jazz) guitarist Chet Atkins. In this regard, he has a kindred spirit in Bill Frisell, a guitarist who often sounds very country when he’s not reaching for the stratosphere with loops and other effects.

But Lage uses no effects whatsoever, yet he manages to coax an extraordinary number of diverse sounds out of his Telecaster and a Fender amp, with just his fingers and a tone knob. The word ‘resourceful’ comes immediately to mind: He seems to be inventing techniques on the fly, as he grabs the middle of the neck and strums it while picking a separate line, or plays muted arpeggios while managing to lay a beautifully rendered melody on top. He does these wildly accurate chromatic runs up the neck, often ending in little screech that has a signature sound, reminding me of Kenny Wheeler’s flugelhorn squeals. One minute he can be as down home and bluesy as B.B. King, the next as heady and melodic as John Abercrombie. You can hear the entire history of the guitar, sometimes in one song, sometimes in one solo.

Another thing that really sets him apart from his peers is his amazing range of dynamics. It’s as though most players have something like maybe 5 gears of loudness; Lage has perhaps, 25 levels. He uses his dynamic sensibility to create musical tension that draws the listener in, sometimes coming down to an absolute whisper and then roaring back with a single powerful strum.

It’s great to hear such music, so filled with good feeling, humor, wit, humanity and optimism, played live. He was clearly enjoying himself, playing two 45 minute sets and after a standing ovation, coming back for a sweet encore with a ballad off the new album.

I just found out Julian will once again be opening the next Healdsburg Jazz Festival, this time playing duos with Bill Frisell. Perfect. Now that is a show I won’t miss.


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