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A charmer from Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge


Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge, "Mount Royal" (Free Dirt)

Nobody bats an eye anymore when jazz and bluegrass musicians decide to record together.

All things considered, there's no reason why anyone ever should have batted an eye or anything else.

The career of the late, great jazz bassist Charlie Haden, alone, is enough instruction about how contiguous they can be. He grew up in a family band of country musicians and, in his early 20s, became one of the stalwart bass players in avant-garde jazz for Ornette Coleman. He remained all of that for  the rest of his life. And right before the end of that life he returned to country music to make a family country music disc.

What we have here is Julian Lage, one of the great young jazz guitarists (Gary Burton, Fred Hersch, Nels Cline) teaming up on a duo disc with bluegrass guitarist Chris Eldridge of the Punch Brothers, one of the most popular bluegrass groups around. Their first record together was "Avalon" in 2013. Eldridge's singing often turns this every bit as much into a bluegrass record as it is a countrified jazz record. (Listen to him singing "Things in Life" while the two of them play their frets off their duo guitars.)

"Sleeping By Myself" is another vocal which Lage is said to have discovered on Eddie Vedder's 2011 "Ukelele Songs." "We needed something outside of the traditional acoustic vocabulary to feature his voice in a very specific way" says Lage. "Living in the Mississippi Valley" is from the songbook of Johnny Hartford, fondly remembered from all his featured spots with the Smothers Brothers.

The song is very much in the Smothers genre of word-rich bluegrass semi-comedy. The record, no matter how you listen to it, is a charmer.

3 stars (out of four)



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