Jazz guitarist Julian Lage — who left a favorable impression with Mondavi Center audiences when he appeared with violinist/fiddler Mark O’Connor in 2010 — returns for a four-night visit next month.
Lage will perform Wednesday through Saturday, March 6-9, in Mondavi’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, appearing with his group, which features cellist Aristides Rivas, percussionist Tupac Mantilla, bassist Jorge Roeder and saxophonist Dan Blake.
Lage emerged as a solo artist with his Grammy-nominated 2009 debut album “Sounding Point.” His follow-up album, “Gladwell,” was picked by several reviewers as one of the best jazz albums of 2011. “Gladwell” is something of a concept album, organized around a fanciful and story-driven plan, as Lage explains: “We began playing with the idea of creating a story we could use as a guiding light in our writing process. … The result was the development of an imaginary and forgotten town known as Gladwell. … As a metaphor, Gladwell presented us with a clear architecture, to compose songs that evoke feelings of people and places we hold dear.”
Among the “sights and sounds” describing the imaginary town, the songs on “Gladwell” depict the train station (“Listening Walk”), the church (“Cocoon), and the bazaar (“Iowa Taken”). “Some songs specifically identify with particular parts of the town,” writes Lage, “while other pieces simply fit into the overall concept and musical direction. The intention of the music is to encourage the listener, at every turn, to take a step toward the unknown.”
In addition to his recordings with his own group, Lage has recently worked again with O’Connor (collaborating with the violinist’s group, Hot Swing).
“Working with Mark O’Connor made me realize you can bring that simplicity and elegance of the guitar to the main stage,” Lage says. “A lot of times growing up I felt the guitar had to be more like a saxophone or a piano — it was never really encouraged in jazz to use capos or open tuning, for instance.
“With Mark, I felt I had permission to cultivate those sonic elements, and I discovered so much new music, like ‘Freight Train’ or old bluegrass tunes, or old-time music. It’s so coupled with the design of the instrument. When you’re playing that music on the guitar, it’s as though all the lights are green.”
Lage also gained pivotal early exposure as a protégé of the well-known and well-established vibraphonist Gary Burton, recording and touring with Burton on two projects: “Generations” (2004) and “Next Generation” (2005). Lage recently worked with Burton again on “Common Ground,” a 2011 release by The New Gary Burton Quartet.
The Julian Lage Group performs at 8 p.m. March 6-9 in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, in the cabaret configuration. Tickets are $38-$42 general, $19-$21 students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at email@example.com or 530-747-8055.