Bright notes open “Etude,” the opening track of Julian Lage’s stunning new album, Squint, creating ripples of sound that whirl around one another and cascade in dazzling waves of beauty. The tune creates an atmosphere of reverence and offers a moment for us to prepare to be baptized in the swirling eddies of sound in which we are about to plunge.
While “Etude” features Lage alone flowing gracefully up and down the frets, the rest of the songs on the album feature the elegant interplay of Lage with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King. “Boo’s Blues” kicks off with Lage’s shimmering guitar chords slithering across the tune’s theme, playing call-and-response with Roeder’s scampering bass and King’s shuffling drums. The title track swings and sways along King’s steady snare beat, balancing a bopping swing jazz with colorful, almost psychedelic, beds of skittering lead notes, pausing on a bridge for Roeder’s looping bass, King’s clicking sticks, and Lage’s darting guitar to talk to one another.
“Saint Rose” comes in on a vibrant surf rock beat, reminiscent of Dick Dale, ethereally riding the wild surf, while the Johnny Mercer classic “Emily” softly and tenderly caresses us with its quiet, elegant tones. “Familiar Flowers” skitters and darts in a free-form tone poem, while King’s staccato drums propel the hang-five rockabilly jazz of “Twilight Surfer.” The quietly elegant “Call of the Canyon,” made famous by Gene Autry, closes the album with a call to explore the wide open spaces created by the song’s sonic architecture.
Squint showcases Lage’s openness to exploring new musical spaces, as well as his graceful guitar work and his vibrant songwriting.