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MUSIC REVIEW

Lage shines in group setting

Jazz guitarist Julian Lage's megawatt smile was on display throughout the performance at Club Passim by the Julian Lage Group. Jazz guitarist Julian Lage's megawatt smile was on display throughout the performance at Club Passim by the Julian Lage Group. (JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / March 30, 2009
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CAMBRIDGE - Jazz guitarist Julian Lage has a knack for suggesting his playing comes to him exclusively in the heat of the moment. Every brisk run up and down the pentatonic scales coincides with an arch of the eyebrows, eyes half shut, and a megawatt smile that leaves no doubt he's intrigued by what he's hearing.

Yet Lage's music is notated and meticulously rendered, as heard on his new debut album, "Sounding Point." It's to his credit that he makes his songs sound so spontaneous and organic in a live setting, but Lage is also indebted to a backing quartet highly attuned to his ideas and fresh ways to expand them.

At Club Passim on Friday, for the last set of their two-night stand, Lage and his virtuosic ensemble - including Tupac Mantilla on percussion, Ben Roseth on saxophone, Aristides Rivas on cello, and Jorge Roeder on bass - conjured shape-shifting textures through nimble group interplay.

Lage, a 21-year-old California native who has lived in Boston for the past few years while he studies classical composition at Berklee College of Music, is already being heralded as a new star in the world of jazz guitarists. Granted, it's not exactly a crowded field, but it's easy to see why Lage - with talent, agility, and charisma to spare - has been on the ascent since he emerged as a 5-year-old guitar prodigy who went on to play with Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, and Bela Fleck.

As a bandleader, though, Lage was content to cede the focus to his bandmates, often locking into a mischievous, harmonic symbiosis with them. A rendition of "Lil' Darlin'," made famous by Count Basie (and "made infamous by us," Lage cracked), featured Mantilla engaging Lage in a rhythmic give-and-take, with Mantilla simply slapping his legs at one point while Lage figured out what to do next.

Lage's own compositions, including "Clarity," "All Purpose Beginning," and "Motor Minder," weren't as concerned with straight-ahead melodies or dissonance. In place of tension within his song structures, Lage seemed fascinated by the possibilities of where he could take the music. He was fortunate to have a supporting cast already on board for the journey.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

JULIAN LAGE GROUP At: Club Passim, Friday (10 p.m. set)

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