Julian Lage, Juanito Pascual a study in compatible contrast
On paper at least, they don’t seem to share much in common. Jonathan “Juanito” Pascual is one of Boston’s most acclaimed flamenco guitarists with an impeccable ear for fusion. Julian Lage honed his chops at Berklee College of Music and upon graduation became a rising star in jazz circles, noted for his purity of tone and technique.
Their paths rarely ever crossed while they both lived here, but their mutual admiration is apparent in a conversation together this week —
Lage on the phone from New York City, where he moved about two years ago, and Pascual calling from his home in Belmont.
Ahead of a joint performance they’ll give on Saturday at Somerville Theatre, Lage and Pascual reflected on their trajectories and just how similar they’ve been.
“We actually haven’t met in person all that much. We had a couple of quick meetings through common friends,” says Pascual, who organized the concert. “I’ve heard Julian live a few times, and that’s one of the things that inspired me to do this show together. What struck me the most about Julian’s playing was the combination of his tone, rhythmic flow, and musical clarity.”
You can sense Lage, who’s soft-spoken and measured in his speech, practically blush on the other end of the phone. For his part, he admits he has a lot to learn about Pascual’s music. He’s never played flamenco, and for good reason.
“That takes a lot of courage,” Lage says, sounding daunted by the prospect.
“I bet you could if you set your mind to it,” Pascual assures him.
“I appreciate it, but I really do see flamenco as being so inclusive, as far as understanding the culture and the other forms of art that surround it,” Lage says. That personal dynamic is so wonderful to me. I love it, but I purposely don’t try to figure it out. I get to be a fan.”
“Flamenco is definitely a rabbit hole,” Pascual says. “You’re smart to be careful. The classic scenario is that someone tries it, gets a little taste, and basically gets hooked and leaves their life behind and moves to Spain.”
At least that’s what happened to Pascual, a Minneapolis native who spent time in Spain before arriving in Boston to study at the New England Conservatory. Saturday’s concert will mark the debut of his latest band, the Juanito Pascual New Flamenco Trio, which features bassist Brad Barrett and percussionist Tupac Mantilla. They’ll be previewing material from their forthcoming debut.
For Lage’s set, which will feature songs from his latest album, last year’s “Gladwell,” he’ll also be joined by Mantilla, along with cellist Aristides Rivas, bassist Jorge Roeder, and saxophonist Dan Blake.
By the time Pascual was in high school, he was on a parallel path between jazz and flamenco.
“Julian, I’ve heard you talk about this wide-ranging appetite for all things guitar. That’s kind of how I started, too,” Pascual says. “I had this underlying classical core of my lessons, and then I got more into jazz and flamenco around the same time. I started taking jazz lessons with one guy and some flamenco lessons with another guy. And then I went to Spain.”
Pascual and Lage both talk about the importance of fusing their influences into a sound that’s their own.
“I always felt like I wanted to do something that was a blend of my influences,” Pascual says. “I think the closest I ever came to feeling like I had a definite personal direction was in my mid-teens. I knew I wanted to blend classical, jazz, and flamenco. But I also loved blues-rock, people like [Eric] Clapton and [Jimi] Hendrix.”
“I definitely came out of the blues as well. I was really into Muddy Waters and T-Bone Walker,” Lage says. “I was really into the blues, and I did that for the first few years, and then I studied some classical guitar, which was more foundational training to learn how to read music and learn some general technique. Then I definitely went down the jazz route when I was 8 or 9 years old.”
Speaking of melding different styles, will Lage and Pascual collaborate at the Somerville Theatre?
“Not that I’m aware of, but you never know,” Lage says. “I’m really excited to just go to this concert, which I can’t always say.”