Review: Album of exploration from jazz guitarist Julian Lage

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This image released by Blue Note shows “Squint” by Julian Lage. (Blue Note via AP)

Julian Lage, “Squint” (Blue Note Records)

In the right hands, 12 notes multiplied by six strings can produce endless variety. Here’s proof.

Jazz guitarist Julian Lage’s Blue Note Records debut is an exuberant, engaging, endlessly inventive exploration of styles. Fronting his trio, which also includes bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, Lage echoes and honors guitar slingers ranging beyond jazz, from Tom Verlaine to Dick Dale to Chuck Berry.

Imitation is not Lage’s thing, though. On “Squint,” his distinctive distillation of his instrument’s possibilities produces notes that swirl and soar and curlicue and twist and shout and land with a grin. Mellifluous single-note lines are countered with stabs of dissonance and strummy squalls.

The set opens with a lovely, undulating, slightly discordant theme, “Etude,” before the combo settles into a swaggering, funky groove on “Boo’s Blues.” On “Quiet Like a Fuse,” Lage plays as if he’s sharing a secret, and an ominous ostinato leads to resolution at the end. “Twilight Surfer” does indeed sound like a sports soundtrack, with an ending that crests.

Lage wrote most of the material, and the set is all instrumental except for one word: “Oh!” The mid-tune exclamation from a band member aptly captures the mood on “Squint,” where exploration leads to discovery.

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