in performance: julian lage and chris eldridge

 julian lage and chris eldridge.

julian lage and chris eldridge.

The bill of fare offered last night by Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge was dubbed by the former as “acoustic guitar art songs.” What that translated into during a powerfully conversational duo performance at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville was a meeting ground between the jazz dexterity of Lage, the bluegrass abandon of Eldridge and the wealth of fertile stylistic ground that sat in between them.

Though deceptively simple and lean in design with the two guitarists playing without amplification save for a lone microphone, the 80 minute program was beautifully restless in execution.

Light melodies with shades of folk and pre-bluegrass country would open a tune with summery grace before darting off to break the sound barrier. In other instances, a more jazz like sensibility would interject itself with playful spontaneity, adding to the show’s highly intuitive feel. Such occurrences were commonplace within the tunes, changing the temperament of the music as regularly and readily at the tempo.

Take Mount Royal, for instance, one of several new, unrecorded instrumental compositions showcased during the performance. Its initial setting was pure Americana, a terrain of swiftly performed melodic lines by Eldridge full of folkish charm. But when Lage took the reins, the song seemed to elongate with a slower, more open lyricism. The moods passed back forth before splintering into short shards of percussive dissonance.

A similar stylistic joyride was also at the heart of At the Meeting House, an older composition from the duo’s 2013 EP disc Close to Picture that employed a kind of Americana fusion – one similar to the jazz/bluegrass hybrid playing of Tony Rice, but with a far more congenial feel – that highlighted the guitarists’ stylistic differences as well as the obvious dialogue that grew out of the resulting music.

Eldridge, who has performed in Kentucky several times over the past decade as a member of the new generation string band Punch Brothers, also revealed himself as a capable singer with a voice as light, unspoiled and adaptable as his playing, whether it was with a quietly sentimental reading of the Gershwin staple Someone to Watch Over Me, a spry stab at the gospel nugget Open Up the Window, Noah or a leisurely update of Jimmie Rodgers’ Any Old Time that sounded less like the country classicist and more like the wry folk reflection of Loudon Wainwright III. All three are featured on the duo’s fine 2014 album Avalon and further defined the scope of the modern “art song” as Lage and Eldridge view it

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