Lucien Johnson: Wax///Wane (Deluge/digital outlets)

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Lucien Johnson: Wax///Wane (Deluge/digital outlets)

The hypnotic sound of the opening piece here, Magnificent Moon, on this album under the name of Lucien Johnson – the Wellington-based, global-traveller and highly acclaimed composer/saxophonist – should be persuasive enough for anyone to want to continue.

On an album inspired by the phases of the moon and natural phenomena, Johnson and his excellent, empathetic friends (vibes player John Bell, harpist Michelle Velvin, bassist Tom Callwood, drummer Cory Champion and percussionist Riki Piripi) evoke a spiritual jazz of the kind rarely heard from New Zealand artists.

The spirits of John and Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra and Charles Earland benignly watch over this (approvingly we would also guess) and pieces like the almost abstract evocation of Dawn are sublimely seductive.

The presence of vibes and harp adds a layer of delicate weightlessness which elevates many of these pieces, appropriately pulling them up into more ethereal air.

That said, pieces like Forest Rendezvous swing out more earthily and energetically as Johnson sets an upward trajectory in playing which stops just the right side of furious (as Sonny Rollins was wont to do in his middle period). But here again the pulsing bass, delicate vibes and trickle of harp which occupy a middle section pull this into a different emotional space again before Johnson returns with the simple but memorable head.

For the casual jazz listener, the five-minute Rubicon is perhaps the most challenging piece here, but the intelligent running order of the album builds the momentum (and expectation) toward it. It will make no such demands on those who have enjoyed the big names referenced above.

And the album closes with the excellent Awa which, while not quite returning us to that spirituality that opened this collection, finds a place which brings together many of the preceding component parts into a probing piece confirming just how thoughtful and extraordinary – especially in the local jazz landscape – Wax///Wane is. And these players are.

Recommended.

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This album is available on bandcamp here and on vinyl from Flying Out here.



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