The guitar fanatics in a crowd are easy to spot. They usually have a guitar case slung over their shoulder, or some article of clothing with a guitar-related logo, or they’re playing air guitar to whatever it is slamming into their eardrums via a pair of much-too-loud earbuds.
This past Wednesday picking out these guitar nerds (a term of great affection, since I consider myself to be one) wasn’t hard as I waited in line at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival for a show by two guitar powerhouses: Nels Cline and Julian Lage. Cline is best known for his work with Wilco for the last decade and has been ranked as the 82nd greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone and 43rd by Spin Magazine. Lage is largely known for being a child prodigy, having played on the Grammy Awards at age 12, and joining Gary Burton’s band at 16. His first album earned him a Grammy nomination at age 22.
The show was an explosion of sound that was totally unpredictable and could jump from chaotic to serene and back again with no warning. I can’t say how the non-guitarists in the room felt about it, but those of us who do play were in guitar heaven.
Coming from two different generations (Cline is 58, Lage is 27) seemed to inform their vastly different, yet compatible approaches to the music. But during the show we learned that there were, in fact, three generations represented on the stage. It turns out that Cline and Lage were introduced to each other by Jim Hall, one of the greatest jazz guitarist of all time, who passed away in December at age 83. There was something quite satisfying in knowing that these two forward-thinking players owe their partnership to one of the masters of the instrument. I won’t go so far as to say Jim Hall’s spirit was in the room that night, but I have no doubt that, had he been there, he would have been damn happy that he brought these two wonderful players together.