Chip Wickham – Blue To Red
(Lovemonk LMNK66LP LP, CD & Digital. Album review by Adam Sieff)
On a sweltering evening during last summer’s heat wave, I was walking through Soho and heard something wonderful wafting along Broadwick Street through the open door of Sounds Of The Universe. They were playing a track from Chip Wickham’s Shamal Wind that so perfectly fitted the atmosphere on the street that I bought a copy there and then. The record became a cornerstone of my soundtrack of those balmy months.
First, a little background if you need it: now living in Doha after a number of years based in Madrid, flautist/saxophonist Wickham had spent many years building a strong résumé in Manchester as a key member of the northern music scene, playing, recording and writing with artists including The Pharcyde, Jimpster, Nightmares On Wax, Graham Massey, Roy Ayers, Nat Birchall, The New Mastersounds, Craig Charles Fantasy Funk Band, Matthew Halsall, and Dwight Trible.
Blue To Red, is his third album in three years, with two more albums due by 2022 to complete his ambitious five-year plan. The sound delves deeper into spiritual jazz than on its predecessor, the key textures here are Fender Rhodes, harp and percussion. That’s wholly relevant to the subject matter, the album’s message is heartfelt plea for man to solve a culture crisis and change course from turning the Earth from a living blue planet into a dead red one.
Alongside Wickham are Dan ‘JD 73’ Goldman on keyboards, harpist Amanda Whiting, Simon ‘Sneaky’ Houghton on double bass and cello, Sons of Kemet drummer Jon Scott and percussionist Rick Weedon. The album was recorded at Big Noise Studios in Essex with engineer Simon ‘Stingray’ Davies, and was produced and mixed by Wickham.
The melodies are strong, the grooves are solid and the playing is excellent, with some particularly fine soloing from Wickham and Goldman who both stretch out without taking things too far. The influences of Yusef Lateef, Lonnie Liston Smith, Alice Coltrane, CTI and ’70s soul jazz are clearly audible, but always in a positive way. Amanda Whiting’s harp creates beautiful layers and washes of sound, and the percussion of Rick Weedon is an integral part of the atmosphere.
All of the six tracks are really good, but the centrepiece is the 11-minute-plus The Cosmos, slow paced with its swirling Rhodes and harp over a simple bass phrase. I listened to this on headphones while watching the SpaceX Starlink pass overhead and it fitted the occasion perfectly. Route One sounds like the big tune from this album, it swings like crazy and will surely be a major floor filler (whenever we get back to that). I also really liked the opening title track with its sultry latin groove, Wickham introducing the theme like a cool breeze on a hot night before taking off into a fine solo that keeps building through a sea of percussion, harp flourishes and cymbal splashes.
As he did on Shamal Wind, Wickham understands that good music needs to be well produced without compromising its integrity to be relevant to DJs, and he succeeds – this is music for celebration and contemplation. The sound is warm and analogue, the reverbs and delays sparkle and the mixes feel retro yet absolutely right for today. He’s clearly a details man right down to the packaging, the limited edition translucent colour vinyl artwork is gorgeous and the CD version comes with an Obi strip. As a good friend of mine would say, ‘this is going to be big!’
LINKS: Chip Wickham website
Blue to Red is released today 8 May 2020