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By Jon Garelick
Guitarist and composer Julian Lage describes this 25-minute disc as a “prequel” to 2022’s View With a Room, though these six Lage originals were recorded at the same session, when fellow guitarist Bill Frisell had joined Lage’s working trio with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King (of The Bad Plus). Like the previous album, the new release is a mix of duo and quartet tracks, this time with acoustic guitars (on three tracks) splitting the difference with the electric-guitar lineup.
The tighter song structures of View With a Room here give way more often to open exploration, with down-tempo, understated rhythms and gentle washes of guitar textures. Though there are clear melodies (especially on the folk-like title track), these are not the punchy kind of almost-pop songs that Lage composed for albums like 2021’s Squint (with Roeder and King) or the earlier Arclight (with Scott Colley and Kenny Wollesen). No heavy backbeats or leisurely country-jazz waltzes here. And even though the duration of the tunes is short, the forms themselves are longer. Pieces like “Missing Voices” and “Mantra” melt into extended-form explorations of tone and texture, the former laced with “ghostly” harmonics and the latter brooding with a Miles-like “Spanish tinge,” replete with a taste of “backwards” guitar along with bells and King’s softly insistent snare drum.
That could be a disappointment to fans who want to hear the nimble-fingered Lage tear it up or face off with Frisell in duo fireworks. As on Room, Frisell is here mostly to enhance the overall orchestral effect. But there is enough harmonic and formal invention, as well as textural beauty, to satisfy any hungry ear. In that regard, Lage and producer Margaret Glaspy (a singer-songwriter who also happens to be Lage’s wife) were wise to break these six pieces off as statement of its own. And to keep it short.