Leon Johnson has spent his share of time in airports. Growing up in a veritable Civil Rights dynasty, the now Indianapolis-based multi-instrumentalist and composer traveled frequently as a child, accompanying his family all over the U.S. and Africa where his grandfather organized against apartheid. Being so often on the move, Johnson took solace in sitting and people-watching at airports where, as Johnson puts it, “we’re in between where we’re going and where we were and we don’t have much to say.”
On From Nine Mornings, his debut full-length as Airport People, Johnson conjures a sense of ease and order, a kind of effortless harmonic precision that sounds, perhaps, like a reaction to the disjointedness of being dragged along from place to place.
Like Eno’s Music for Aiports or Satie’s musique d’ameublement, From Nine Mornings seems to invite projection and interpretation. It is music which can be used this way or that; generous music. There is a spaciousness that recalls Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert but also a deeply memorable, hummable character, like William Tyler or Paul Bley’s “Ida Lupino.” From Nine Mornings is sparse but supportive; melodies don’t drift, they ride, if ever so gently.
Each of the tracks on From Nine Mornings proceeds from a melody that, in fact, emerged each on a respective morning in 2020. Johnson had recently lost his job, recently moved, and was once again seeking to exploit the more freeing aspects of the liminal. What is there to hear when we’re in between where we were and where we’re going and we don’t have much to say?
After that period of emergent morning melodies, Johnson reviewed and culled. By chance, nine stood out––and so we have nine (and a prelude), each from its own morning. Piano, essentially, but also violin, upright bass, guitar, drums, field recordings, and manipulated orchestral samples bolster these melodies, careful but buoyant. Fans of John Carroll Kirby and Nils Frahm and H. Takahashi will undoubtedly find much to love in these pieces, but Johnson’s love of The Bad Plus and Pat Metheny are here too, just beneath the surface, as is Johnson’s classical training. The songs are simple but sophisticated just the same, cinematic or perhaps televisionistic, a kind of gentle drama fit for the subliminal, the periphery––this is a mode not entirely unlike the Rachel’s Selenography.
Much of what happens on From Nine Mornings is precise, but none of it is proscriptive. The title, and the spirit implied, ensures an openness. These are nine pieces of music from nine mornings. But as for what they are for or where they are going, this is left to the listener.