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Julian Lage Group Review

Posted by Charlee Redman on 10/14 at 04:16 PM

The Julian Lage Group performed last night at Penn State’s Schwab Auditorium, putting on a truly incredible display of musical talent and collaboration. Lage, a 21 year-old guitarist based in Boston, released his debut album Sounding Point earlier this year. He was joined by drummer and percussionist Tupac Mantilla, bassist Jorge Roeder, saxophonist Ben Roseth, and cellist Aristides Rivas.

Between songs, Lage mentioned that the band had been playing together for about a year and a half (he began playing music thirteen years ago). The musicians stood close to each other on stage, each watching the others attentively and appreciatively for cues and enjoyment. The complexity and frequent, abrupt changes in dynamics, rhythm, and meter in the music required the musicians to be perfectly precise and communicating with each other at every moment – and they were. The technical skills of the group were astounding.

But they weren’t just dazzling the audience with solos or tricky passages. Throughout the show, Lage and his quintet would laugh and encourage each other, bodies swaying and jerking with the music. At one point, Lage commented, “It feels good to play, I’m sure you can see that”. It never seemed like any member of the group was showing off; they passed control of the music around. Often Lage would play a solo for several phrases and Roseth would take it up on his saxophone as the others fell back. Lage played only one solo piece during the performance.

The intense focus on the music in itself characterized Lage’s style. He played without frills or flashy fretwork, although at times his lithe fingers moved impossibly fast. They would dance across the treble strings for a few moments before making a swift dive into the guitar’s lowest register, then surface again.  He seemed to savor every note, to appreciate the sonority of his instrument and the ways it created harmony with the quintet. Evident in his compositions is a scrutinizing attention to aesthetic detail and of course, amazing talent. In the slower pieces, he would slowly release notes into the air and leave them to hover and sink in.
       
Lage’s humble, down-to-earth personality and passion for music seem to shape his music. I haven’t attempted to define exactly what his music is – it’s a little classical, blues, jazz, and folk, sometimes with a little flamenco or bossa nova for effect. For example, the group played a piece called “Bluegrass Underscore” near the end of the concert, followed by a tango. Lage has a fluid blend of influences from which he strives to take the best elements in order to make something new. In the concert, the beauty of the cello and classical polyphony, the rich jazz cries of the sax, the bluesy bass, and dynamic guitar synthesized to create something greater than the instruments alone. 
       
Lage’s unique style of music and performing were a delight to hear. At the age of 21, he has reached a place many musicians never get to go. It will be fascinating to see where his love of music takes him.

{name} Author: Charlee Redman
Bio: Charlee Redman is currently a sophomore studying English and French at Penn State. She enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, making ambient noise with the local band The Roaring Kittens, walking, and drinking lots of coffee. Although she likes many styles of music, some of her favorites are folk, indie, classical, and electronic. Her favorite bands at the moment are The National, Iron & Wine, Of Montreal, and Radiohead.

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