Exclusive Interview - Julian Lage

Monday, March 4, 2019



Love Hurts  – which marks Julian 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 GRAMMY® nominated guitarist exploring the American song catalog from a truly unique vantage point, performing music written by a range of audacious and original artists, from Roy Orbison to Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Giuffre to Peter Ivers. Lage and his rhythm section build upon the wandering sonic outlook of his previous releases, further impelling his defining amalgam of jazz fusion, jam band liberation, standards, and embryonic rock ‘n’ roll with virtuosic precision, adventurous improvisation, and a remarkably clear vision.



ArkivJazz: I must say that Love Hurts is an extraordinary disc. The trio setting seems to add its own bit of magic to the recording.

Julian Lage: Thank you. Yes, Jorge (bassist Jorge Roeder) and Dave (drummer Dave King) have a unique disposition as players. I just love the way they play, regardless of my involvement. They’re both passionate and adventurous, and I think you are right in that it translates to a certain kind of fire that’s lit underneath me. There’s something very special about their interplay together and on this project as a whole.

AJ: Let’s talk about the trio - the bass playing is wonderful, and Dave King’s drumming is always interesting. He must be a lot of fun to play with…

JL: Oh, he’s a blast to play with. He’s amazing because not only is he focused and expressive, but every effort made is on behalf of the whole group. The whole ensemble lifts because of him, and it’s never indulgent. Especially in the realm between avant-garde music and traditional American songs…he weaves those two worlds together so seamlessly.

AJ: Yeah, it seems like a really strong foundation to build on when he plays. Is this your third trio record?

JL: Yes, totally. The first release was called Arclight  and featured an early pre-bebop feel, but it was also my foray into a solid-body electric guitar-led trio. Modern Lore  was more of a produced expression of that, with all original songs. I’d say Love Hurts  is somewhere between those two, or even in front of those two, in terms of it being quite a bit freer. There’s a slight alteration of the sonic profile, from the guitar sound to the way it was recorded. They definitely feel like three records with the same general concept.

AJ: Well it’s a remarkable trilogy…and congratulations on bringing out an old Ornette tune. I hadn’t heard “Tomorrow is the Question” in a while, and I thought that you brought something unique to that.

JL: Thanks man, that is just the best song - that whole record is incredible with Shelly Manne, Percy Heath, Red Mitchell, Ornette and Don (Cherry). It’s just so complete, so swinging, and I appreciate you acknowledging that.

AJ: Well, Ornette almost creates his own language with his tunes. And it’s hard - I think people who don’t know his music or don’t get inside his music realize it’s like a separate thing. It led to harmolodics and he had to build his own chord structures to create those...

JL: Oh my gosh, you’re right…in retrospect we see the trajectory to harmolodics in the later stuff, and with Prime Time, and I loved every bit of it. I’m such a fan. That early stuff is so cool, because you kind of think you know what it is, but you don’t.

AJ: It keeps you slightly on the edge when you listen to it. To me, Ornette would change the color of the room when you hear him play.

JL: Yes I believe that - he’s the best.

AJ: Also, speaking of jazz masters, you picked an interesting cover with “The Windup.”

JL: Yeah, I bet you know that one well. I feel like any jazz lover from the beginning of the music to now has come across that period of Keith.

AJ: A lot of us go through our Keith Jarrett periods and find out just what he can do to a song.

JL: It’s unbelievable. I experienced him in two stages: in what he can do with songs, and then coming to appreciate what a great composer he is. That’s a great example of that effusive ‘American-heritage’ kind of sound. The original version is just insane with his virtuosity and phrasing.

AJ: All these songs are special gems but I do admire you for bringing in “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” which is such a strong standard. You have a great version, especially the bass taking the melody at times…

JL: Jorge was just masterful with that. You know, with these tunes there’s nothing novel about them in many respects and it’s just us playing, but it’s an understatement to say it’s fun to see such great players just go to town with this music. There’s enough meat there to keep everyone kind of engaged, and as sessions go it was a blast.

AJ: Yes, it really holds together as one big statement, and what a way to end the album with “Crying.” That’s such a great Roy Orbison tune, and I especially like the way you build it. I encourage anybody who hasn’t heard it to go out and get it because you don’t hear a Roy Orbison cover like that every day.

JL: There was no one like Roy. He was at this intersection in the history of American music where you had a lot of style and great songs. There are great stylists, but there’s also an older generation of great singers who really pull on my heartstrings like nothing else.

AJ: It’s a great structure to build on, but both the dynamics you use and the distortion you bring into it really adds a lot of color. I appreciate your choice and taste in covers, and I think that one really works. Also, as for your originals on the disc, they’re fantastic and have such a textural variety for a trio…

JL: You know, God willing, we can go deeper into some of those zones. I feel like there’s more work to be done, but I think this is the kind of an expression of the possibilities that are there. I’m excited to take that band out on the road.

AJ: Are you touring with the band?

JL: Yes, we’re going to tour in two legs - an East Coast leg and then a West Coast leg later in the year. 

AJ: Julian, thanks for your time today, and best wishes with what looks to be a busy year ahead for you. 



Love Hurts is available via Mack Avenue Records