Julian Lage The Layers Music Review

Julian Lage The Layers, 2022 album is listened to and reviewed by Douglas Moore

It always surprises me the many ways we audiophiles find the music we love. Sometimes it is mentioned in a component review, or through a fellow audiophile telling us “You should check this out”, Or we simply stumble into it while going on with our daily lives. For me, finding Julian Lage’s music was a controlled stumble if you will.

I have been a lifelong guitar and bass player and I firmly believe once you are bitten by the musician bug you never fully get away from it. What’s more, I have always loved guitar-based jazz. I would say that even the most diehard heavy metal guitar player will tell you that they have jazz guitarists they call heroes as well. It takes a lot of knowledge of music theory and a high level of musicianship to play jazz guitar.

Julian Lage is such a guitar player. He has the knowledge and skill to honor this genre. I happened to find his music one day while I was searching for the best guitar players today in each genre. I went to Julian’s website and happened to notice Blue Note Records released his last few albums. This fact alone does not guarantee you will like the music but it does guarantee that there was some thought going into the production and sound quality.

“The Layers” is an album that is an extension of Julian’s 2022 release from Blue Note labeled View With A Room”. In fact “The Layers is a prequel if you will. The music for both albums was cut in the same session and produced by singer/songwriter Margaret Glaspy and mixed by Mark Goodell. Guitar work on both albums was done by Lage himself and veteran jazz guitar icon Bill Frisell. Drums were played by Dave King with Jorge Roeder keeping the bottom end going on bass.

The first track Everything Helps” showcases the immense amount of talent in the studio space that day. This track showcases how well two guitar players can express themselves and their playing while giving the song what it deserves as well. Roeder’s bass drives the tune and gives it weight while also showcasing some runs of his own. Dave King on drums gives his clinic on jazz drums with excellent cymbal work and drum accompaniment.

Double Southpaw is a lesson in how well an acoustic guitar and stand-up bass can play together in the right hands. Lage shows off chords and finger-style playing techniques on the guitar and Roeder plays everything from root notes to chords and scale runs on the bass. There is everything for the musician at heart to enjoy with this

The song “This World lets Lage and Frisell show off how well they accompany each other on acoustic guitar. Both guitars are miked up for a beautiful presentation with one guitar center stage and the other center-right. The mastery of chord and scale use gives the song body and fluidity knowing only 2 acoustic guitars are playing.

Mantra  starts with Roeder playing a haunting bass line while Frisell and Lage trade off on either chords or scales. Kings’ drums start slowly but come into play later in the track and hold down the rhythm fort. It is not my favorite track off the album since it goes almost into Free Jazz at times which I admit I am not a big fan of but some people will love the genius among the chaos.

And Finally the Title track Layers” almost has a folk song vibe. The chorus of the song has a cool breakdown in the rhythm that the acoustic guitars play that keep you very much into the song. All players are present and showing their stuff making this track a very good send-off to an albeit short, yet very well-put-together album from some key players in Jazz today.

Sound Quality:

This album is not your typical run-of-the-mill Pro Tools production where the musicians’ phone in their parts as if they were miles away from each other. This is an album done in a studio setting in an open area with microphones. You get all the sounds of the room and the associated ambiance attached to it! Even though the players are close together in the room, the soundstage is wide open and allows you to hear all the overtones and room reverberations from the instruments. This gives the music a sense of reality to the sound that is refreshing and missing from a lot of albums today.

Every instrument is laid out where they wanted it to be. Stand-up bass is center and far back on the stage. Acoustic and electric guitars take the center and right-center stage front and drums behind the guitars and spread drum kit wide as it should be. The songs had very good realism and tonality with a very satisfying amount of detail to the instruments.

While my review of this album was done listening to the streamed version off of Qobuz I am certain that Blue Note Records makes sure that every version of this fine album sounds great.

Julian Lage’s “The Layers” album is available directly from Blue Note Records in everything from MP3 and high-definition digital to LP and LP with the test pressing record as well. Prices vary from $9.99 to $99.00 depending on which version you would like. And all of Julian’s albums are available on Qobuz in 24-bit high resolution. Pick your poison and enjoy a great album from some of the masters of today’s jazz!

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