Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge
On Mount Royal, their 2017 release on Free Dirt Records, Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge craft songs that sound familiar but are never easily classified. Percolating with tinges of bluegrass and folk, insinuations of jazz and pop, hints of classical and avant garde composition, the album rarely settles into any particular category; rather, it dances around the territory between genres, never announcing its innovations, prizing soulfulness above chops at every turn. From first note to last, the duo push themselves to find new ways to play their vintage flattop steel-string acoustic Martin guitars together.
The Grammy-nominated Lage has been highly regarded in jazz and new music circles for his own work as well as for his collaborations with such artists as Nels Cline, Fred Hersch, Gary Burton and Jim Hall, to name a few. Fellow Grammy-nominee Eldridge, an Oberlin Conservatory grad who studied with bluegrass legend Tony Rice, is equally noted in the progressive bluegrass world for his stints with The Seldom Scene and The Infamous Stringdusters, which led to his joining Chris Thile’s adventurous quintet, Punch Brothers.
When they play together, however, they do not represent the genres or styles with which they have long been identified. “It’s not like I’m the jazz representative and he’s the bluegrass representative. We could care less about that,” says Lage. Instead, they make music simply as friends and individuals who happen to have unique ideas and techniques. “Playing with Jules, it feels like anything is possible,” says Eldridge. “You have no constraints. There’s just so much room to move around… which really opens you up to being more creative.” Lage: “Our rapport is based on the idea that we’re researchers studying this idea of what two acoustic guitars can do together, how you can integrate that into instrumental songwriting and how you can reconcile that with vocal music. Our collaboration is like a big research project that’s been going on for years."