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By Robert Mills

Julian Lage reacts to a smooth guitar lick the way a father stares at a newborn child. There’s a pleasure and grace about his stage presence that cannot be mistaken. An intimate Friday night jazz show at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage proved this.

Lage, a former child prodigy who first performed publicly at age 6, has been called a virtuoso. The 23-year-old guitarist displayed his skill that night, moving his hand up and down every fret of his guitar effortlessly.

He was humble and appreciative, pausing between songs to speak softly to the audience, praising them for sharing an evening with the band.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to be here,” Lage said during the show. “You know, we talk about it in the band that we just don’t take any of this for granted – not a second of it. To be able to just plug in and play music, let alone have a great audience is pretty phenomenal.”

Lage’s group is truly world class, with each member hailing from a different corner of the globe. Cellist Aristides Rivas of Venezuela, percussionist Tupac Mantilla of Columbia, bassist Jorge Roeder of Peru and saxophonist Dan Blake of Brooklyn accompanied the jazz composer from Santa Rosa.

The show was not short on crowd participation, as Mantilla—the frenetic percussionist with a surgical table full of drumsticks and wire brushes—took over as bandleader. Mantilla swiveled frontward to generate a rousing back and forth of claps, stomps and snaps between himself and the audience that lasted several minutes. Within that moment, the spectators became Mantilla’s instrument.

The drummer’s crowd-sourced solo was one of many novelties that night. At one point, Rivas and Blake left the stage, leaving Lage, Mantilla and Roeder to play street-corner style, with Mantilla slapping his face, chest and Roeder’s bass to Lage’s lead.

For a man who headlines his own band, Lage is refreshingly unselfish on stage, backing off to give each member of the group lengthy time in the spotlight and transitioning seamlessly between rhythm and lead guitar accordingly.

He was humble offstage as well, attributing the group’s stellar performance to discipline.

“By nature it’s not hard to get good at anything,” he said. “There are some people who are drawn to music and will stay at it. I don’t know if I believe in talent. It’s really just awareness.”

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