Album Title: Ancient Relics
Release Date: 1 April 2024
Saxophonist and composer Lucien Johnson left his native country of New Zealand at the age of 22 to make his way as a musician on the Parisian free jazz scene. With just a smattering of French he mixed with many of the scene’s pioneers forming a trio with maverick bassist Alan Silva, one of jazz’s most inventive players (known for his work with Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp) with whom he recorded one album, ‘Stinging Nettles’. Since then, Johnson has returned to New Zealand to become a multi award-winning and much in-demand player touring the world with respected New Zealand groups and guesting with acts such as the father of ‘ethio-jazz’, Mulatu Astatke. It is these experiences that combine to form Johnson’s mesmerizing, contemporary jazz sound. Yet it’s as much his lavish tenor improvisations as his chosen instrumentation – vibes, harp, bass, drums and percussion – that feed his deeply mystical, reflective and bewitching recordings.
Released on 1 April 2024, Ancient Relics is Johnson’s sophomore solo recording following his much-lauded 2021 album debut, ‘Wax /// Wane’. With enigmatic grooves and evocative harmonies, ‘Ancient Relics’ is awash with the lushness of Johnson’s tenor saxophone and features the distinctive sound of the Pacific’s leading harpist, Natalia Lagi’itaua Mann whose swirling enchantments brings to mind the great Alice Coltrane. While references to the 1960s Impulse! Records abound, there is also a unique quality to ‘Ancient Relics’ – one which values contemplation and ephemerality above all else.
The first single to be taken from the album is Ancient Relics the album’s title track, released on 9 February. Restrained, ethereal and supremely evocative, it’s a kind of jazz raga, the harp and tanpura combining to create a bed of astral exploration, while the warmth of the saxophone envelopes the music in dark velvety beauty.
The track is a fitting opener to the album whose journey slowly gathers in intensity. From the sumptuous balladry of Embers to the voodoo percussion of Escape Capsule, the album’s climax arrives with the deep, throbbing groove of Space Junk before closing on the uplifting Satellites, a Pharoah Sanders-esque celebration of astronomical proportions.