While guitarist Julian Lage came to prominence as a jazz prodigy, as he has matured he has concentrated less on wowing with technique, instead focusing on developing a universal versatility and working with an ever-expanding catalog of artists. His current interests address a more folksy, nostalgic aesthetic. Saturday, he played for the Folly Jazz Series in trio with drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Orlando le Fleming during the busy pre-holiday weekend to a sparse but friendly crowd in the Folly Theater.
The two succinct 45-minute sets featured a tuneful collection, a mix of songs from the early 20th century and a selection of originals from the trio’s to-be-released album. They displayed a winsome survey of Americana roots music with bluesy chords, rock-influenced beats, jazz excursions and a little bit of gritty county twang from his Telecaster.
Lage’s playing brought soulful attention to melody, lingering over phrases with intuitive poignancy and developing themes with innovative harmonies and engaging lyricism. Although his tone was primarily gentle and clear, he ramped up a harsh, rasping timbre during the more openly improvised sections, demonstrating his monstrous technical prowess.
He started the show with a smile to Wollesen, whose enthusiasm pushed each piece, opening the freer sections and engaging in a responsive and convivial partnership.
Le Fleming brought a subtle foundational presence to the ensemble. Newest to the group, he was the only one referencing a score. Nevertheless, he brought an intimacy to his solo moment in “Darn that Dream,” drawing the audience in closer.
It was a modest account of their skills. There was a structured arc to each piece, generally, and as the works followed in the tradition of roots music, they allowed themselves little space to play too far beyond those bounds.
Only once did they exploit with freedom their improvisational capabilities, Lage simply stepping back and indicating to Wollesen: “all you.” Wollesen’s adventurous solo explored the drum set’s pitch-bending potential, creating an array of unexpected, sophisticated effects and a welcome contrast within the charming repertoire.
Almost all the tunes were tinged with familiarity, original or otherwise, throughout the organic presentation. Lage transitioned swiftly between numbers with perfunctory bows, and the impeccably listenable works risked ear fatigue as one bled into the next. Few were announced from the stage, though, and one would have liked to know more about the pieces, their significance to Lage and their role in his development as an artist.