Chip Wickham - Blue To Red (Interview & Review)
8 May 2020
Album Rating: 4/5
This might be just what we need right now: a transcending soundscape of otherworldly instrumentals. Positively charged, limitless music.
Chip Wickham’s musicality has journeyed across continents and cultures. Now with today’s release, Blue to Red, Chip’s broken the stratosphere and reached the outer cosmos; an album soaring through spiritual jazz and into cosmic jazz. His mastery of warping and waning the flute connects harp, rhodes keys, tight percussion, double bass and even the triangle through five interplanetary, patient and fiery tracks, channelling the spirits of Yusef Lateef and Alice Coltrane.
“La Sombra, my first album, meaning ‘shade’ in Spanish, was about me coming out of the shadows of being a session player and being an artist in my own right. Shamal Wind was the big wind of change in my life at that moment, but also symbolically, these huge ‘Shamal Winds’ that blow through the middle east, bringing crazy sandstorms. And Blue to Red is where we are at the moment, with a crumbling planet.”
“This beautiful blue planet that we're turning red, we’re literally killing it.”
Blue to Red not only seeks to forewarn Earth’s possible Mars-like future, if we continue to treat the world the way we do, but also to tap into the interplanetary, cosmic nature of music. Seeded by Chip’s childhood fascination with the stars – sparked by the Christopher Nolan film, Interstellar – and rooted in humankind’s misuse of the planet, this latest record is a giant leap for Chip’s music.
“It was my initial starting point for the album to be a very ‘galactic space jazz’, spiritual sounding album. The more I wrote, the more I realised that was a bit fanciful. Given what was going on around us, we’re so busy trying to put people on Mars, we can’t even deal with our own planet that’s brilliant. We don’t need Mars, it’s a dead planet, and we’ve got this wonderful blue planet here that’s perfect for us. We’re consuming our Earth at a frightening rate, and only starting to see the problems now. It’s no longer something that might happen, it’s happening.”
Chip’s message behind Blue to Red is timely of course, but couldn’t be more so now we’re amid a pandemic. As many musicians abandon their original release dates over fear of sales dips, Chip’s chosen to go on with sound reason. He explains: “Inadvertently, COVID-19 highlights many of the sentiments of the album, even though we recorded it last April. The pandemic’s really made people realise how connected we are around the planet, but also how fragile everything is. We’ve decided to release it now and stick with our original date. Let the music do some good, let it be a soundtrack for the moment, and don’t worry about the sales. It’s art, it’s culture and we need as much positivity as we can get right now. That’s far more important than any other consideration.”
“Albums become the soundtracks to our lives. Certain albums epitomise eras of our lives, and if it does that for people, then I’ve done it, and that’s amazing for me.”
Alongside this motivation, Chip’s passion behind this record is fervently conveyed in his sound and strong camaraderie with the players. The first notes of album opener Blue to Red, are a dreamy harp arpeggio, introducing the revelation of the record, harpist, Amanda Whiting, who consistently brings a luscious quality of improvisation. The instrumentalists chime in, with Dan Goldman mastering the Fender Rhodes; Sons of Kemet drummer, Jon Scott; and Fingathing head honcho, Simon ‘Sneaky’ Houghton on the double bass and cello. We’re introduced to a well-handpicked band of musicians, with elements fired by a catalyst, Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana Orchestra.
“I do see myself as a chef when it goes into making records. Getting the right ingredients, the right musicians is massively important” says Chip, who notably produces and edits all his albums himself. Slow, spiritual and entrancing, The Cosmos, is magically delicious, as all five instruments create one enthralling sound. “I really like the idea of space. As a kid I grew up loving spacemen and travelling to the stars, it was the height of human achievement, the pinnacle of technology. I love all that and the vastness of the cosmos. I wrote The Cosmos trying to capture that feeling. “With slow songs you’ve got to let them breathe. It’s very simple, it’s got that hypnotic bass-line, simple drums, little bits of percussion, the harp swishing around and the Rhodes piano which is the most wonderful sound, it sits between electronica and jazz. It just felt right, there was loads of space in the track. Everyone’s just playing exactly enough.”
“I see my albums as little snapshots, and my contribution to UK Jazz and my legacy as it’s going along. I don’t take this process flippantly. I don’t try and be fashionable or anything other than very honest when I write my music.”
Picking up the pace is Route One, with a curiously addictive harmonic hook in the head, linking some delightfully pacey improv. “I like melodies to have a hook and be memorable, and it’s much overlooked in the world of jazz. The melody’s an inconvenience to many who want to get it out of the way. I was writing really simple melodies that were a bit too ‘route one’, a bit too direct. If you write too simple a melody, it’s not interesting enough for ‘jazz’, but if it’s too noodly a melody, it's not interesting enough for people who aren’t into jazz. I don’t want stuff to sound too pleasant, I want my songs to have sharp edges here, I’m not trying to write comfortable music.”
Among the general smooth spiritual vibe, Chip can’t hold himself back from including at least one characteristic flute frenzy, which remains his biggest hits with crowds and listeners. In Double Cross, like a cockerel crow in the morning, or an army wake up bugle call, Chip erupts from the roost and pours into his flute. It’s cheeky, charming and classically Chip Wickham. Anyone who’s seen this character live knows they’re in for a personalised, unique show, which certainly isn’t left forgotten in this record.
“There’s a thread that runs through Double Cross, and Snake Eyes (Shamal Wind), or in the first album (La Sombra) with The Detour. The aggressive, punk jazz style that I like is unmistakably all about the energy, that’s a really driving song that doesn’t hold back. When you do a lot of gentle deep music, you do need a bit of light and shade. Tracks like double cross make the track after it sound even better because it’s so big. It’s a wonderfully percussive, funky, sound. I find it hard not to write songs like that. I love that sound so much, I couldn’t imagine an album of mine without a big track like that where I do that on the flute.”
Blue to Red sees Chip Wickham take his music to yet another level. An outer-cosmic level, reached with a seriously ambitious musical line up. We’re extremely curious to see where his passion, imagination and pure talent will take his sound next. Album by album, his music is becoming more fundamentally narrative-driven. As such a deeply-rooted session instrumentalist, Chip’s views on the world presented in his music aren’t beset by flappy artistic narratives, but honest, genuine thoughts and emotions as a worldly, impassioned individual. So perfectly summarised as such:
"Good art should take you out of your every day, and give you something bigger to think about. It should transcend the mundane of what we have in life. Great art should inspire you, and interest you, and you lose awareness of what’s going on around you, whether you’re reading a book or listening to a great album. That’s what it does and that’s exactly what we all need right now. I’ve got no big grand ideas for it, other than it might help a few people. Albums become the soundtracks to our lives. Certain albums epitomise eras of our lives, and if it does that for people, then I’ve done it, and that’s amazing for me.”
Blue to Red is out today, the 8th May 2020 on LoveMonk Records.
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