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REVIEW | Julian Lage "Speak to Me" by Jeff Cebulski

Julian Lage

Speak to Me

Blue Note, 2024

By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

As a producer, Joe Henry has guided groups and individuals through albums that seem to aim for a unique middle ground within or between genres, something that might create interest without losing credibility. It is Henry to whom guitarist Julian Lage turned in recording Speak to Me, a collection of tunes meant to exemplify Lage’s broad stylistic and acoustic interests after several albums largely featuring his energetic trio with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer David King.

Roeder and King are still around and are very versatile in handling Lage’s wide-ranging compositions, but others contribute, too. To add a pop-oriented dimension, Henry added keyboardist Patrick Warren, who is better known in the rock and film worlds. Given that King, especially, has rock-ish inclinations, the material that includes him and Warren does have some congeniality. Others who show up are pianist Kris Davis and the multi-genre reedsman Levon Henry.

There’s no selection over six minutes long, and most are within five minutes, suggesting a plan to make Lage’s music more accessible to a wider audience (and, perhaps, to radio).

Each song represents a different stylistic dimension, while Lage features his acoustic axes and melodic perspicacity. The opener “Hymnal” is a contemplative duet with Roeder, with Lage on his Spanish guitar with some subtle synthesized washing that typifies Henry’s production method. The next, “Notrthern Shuffle,” is completely opposite, a funky excursion that’s tweaked with angular toots from Levon Henry while Warren, Roeder, and King push the amped-up guitarist.

“Omission” is folksy, almost a Band instrumental outtake, with proper support from Roeder, who proves his versatility. The country-ish vibe continues on “Seranade,” the kind of slowly loping melody Lage has developed throughout his recording career, highlighted by his more intricate playing.

The solo piece “Myself Around You” has shades of Latin chamber music, again demonstrating Lage’s rich capacity. “South Mountain” is the more creative composition, with Davis and Levon Henry counterpointing Lage’s beautiful, again-Latinesque expression that progresses from suggestive phrases to full measures until an abstract moment intercedes toward the finish.

And then, again, a rhythmic shift on the title cut, with Roeder’s R&B bass underpinning Lage’s brighter fusion rock hike. Following that, “Two And One” turns to the Blues, a tightly rendered trio jaunt that is colored slightly by notes from Warren and Levon Henry slid into the mix. “Vanishing Points” is a melange of moods that turns into a tone poem enhanced by the reedsman’s asides and a tasty dramatic solo from Roeder.

“Tiburon” returns the Lage trio to its comfort zone where Roeder and King invigorate the proceedings while the guitarist dances around and between them with joyous flair. That Joe Henry found it necessary to add some string washes into it is a little puzzling—not much, though, fortunately.

The string thing continues on “As It Were,” the structure of which reminds me of Leo Kottke’s more sedate work, but here with Roeder’s excellent commentary and King’s sensitive support. This tune may show up in a film, methinks.

“76” gets the ensemble moving again, as King revs up the occasion while Lage dances over his Spanish guitar and Warren abstractly comps and plays a decidedly jazzy solo. The closer “Nothing Happens Here” sounds like background music for a breezy lilting vocal (I’m thinking Abbey Lincoln) that evolves into a classicalish interlude.

Fans of Julian Lage know that his eclectic influences permeate his material; Speak To Me deconstructs his music into forms of those without losing his essential identity; there’s enough trio presence to please those looking for more of what they love. In the meantime, Joe Henry’s generally tasteful additions help create a door for new listeners to discover this always interesting guitar talent.

Julian Lage, Speak To Me. Blue Note, 2024.


Julian Lage, guitar

Jorge Roeder, bass

David King, drums

Patrick Warren, piano and keyboards

Levon Henry, reeds

Kris Davis, piano

About Jeff Cebulski

Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at


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