Much like his duo and quartet partner Nels Cline, guitarist extraordinaire Julian Lage made the move from Mack Avenue to Blue Note, continuing his artistic evolution in the footsteps of jazz greats. Squint, the result, is his second trio album with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, after 2019’s Love Hurts. It reflects a deepening devotion to the solid-body guitar and its very particular sonic and geometric properties. In this setting, Lage has accessed a whole other array of timbral options as an improviser. The way Roeder and King work with him to bring it all together is impeccable.
Eight new originals, an electric reworking of the acoustic “Day and Age” from 2015’s World’s Fair (transposed from E down to D), readings of the jazz standard “Emily,” and the old Gene Autry movie number “Call of the Canyon”: Lage makes it all gleam with a consistent guitar voice, no matter the stylistic “bag.” Whether it’s Ornette Coleman-esque jazz (“Squint,” “Familiar Flower”), the vintage rock flavor of “Boo’s Blues” and “Saint Rose,” or the Western swing vibe of “Twilight Surfer,” this is music where the guitar-and-amp combo, not just the guitar, becomes the instrument. Lage is determined to wring every ounce of tone and bite from that setup. “Quiet Like a Fuse” is a title that somehow captures it all, and a textbook example of how to use semi-gnarly overdrive on a ballad.