Hailed as one of the most prodigious guitarists of his generation, Julian Lage has spent more than a decade searching through the myriad strains of American musical history via impeccable technique, free association and a spirit of infinite possibility. Though only 31, the New York-based musician boasts a long, prolific résumé as sideman (alongside such icons as Gary Burton and John Zorn), duo partner (with Nels Cline, Chris Eldridge and Fred Hersch, among others), and as soloist and bandleader. Love Hurts – which marks Lage’s third Mack Avenue LP recorded with a trio, and his first to feature bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King (The Bad Plus) – sees the guitarist exploring the American song catalog from a unique vantage point, performing music written by a range of artists, from Roy Orbison to Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Giuffre to Peter Ivers.
Don’t be fooled by the album’s title… there’s nothing saccharine or mawkish about Love Hurts. Lage possesses a sublime touch, and although the emotion in his music may at times be subtle and thoughtful, it can also be anguished and animated. It’s not just his stylistic approach that impresses, it’s also his sound. I love the fact that his guitar sounds like he’s just come off stage from a 60s gig with The Yardbirds. Bassist Roeder and drummer King both react to this, so that when Lage starts letting go, the bass and drums echo the mood and moment, creating mouth-watering passages of sound.
“The covers on this record are like when you move into a new apartment, the last thing you do is hang your pictures on the wall,” Lage says. “Those pictures define your aesthetic in a way. So the tunes we chose kind of define the aesthetic I natively love but hadn’t put on a record yet.” Though composed more than a half century ago, songs like the iconic title track – written by Boudleaux Bryant and first recorded by the Everly Brothers – might well have been written to suit Lage’s fulsome, evocative style. Love Hurts contrasts that aspect of his artistry by demonstrating the profound influence on his work by such avant-garde jazz heroes as Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Giuffre, and especially Keith Jarrett, the latter’s huge inspiration embodied by two centrepiece tracks, “Encore (A)” and a strikingly epic take on “The Windup.” “The connection we were trying to draw was between this effusive era of Keith Jarrett’s music and all the tributaries that go away from or lead to it,” Lage says, “and then mixing that with music like Roy Orbison, this early rock ‘n’ roll that was also kind of effusive, rich and heartbreaking. We were looking at it as couplets, so we could very casually say, yeah we’re doing ‘Love Hurts’ and we’re doing ‘The Windup’ in the same breath and for it to feel genuine or native. That’s what we were excited about. It didn’t feel like we were making a sampler, it has a narrative.”
The track listing may sound like a strange collection of tunes to bring together, but it works perfectly as an album. Lage forges a connection between all of the music, bringing it all together as a musical bridge in his own image. The striking thing about this recording is how the trio take possession of the tunes whilst still showing reverence and respect to them. The interactivity between the three musicians is of paramount importance and their skill, artistry and understanding make for a wonderful listening experience. This for me is one of the best guitar-led trios at work today.