Blue to Red is the third album in as many years for rising star of the London jazz scene, flutist, and saxophonist Chip Wickham. Enticed by some of the promo copy referencing Alice Coltrane, Yusef Lateef and London’s own Sons of Kemet, this writer was easily drawn in. The album does have elements pertaining to all three of those references, certainly the first two. Throughout, Wickham’s soaring flute and alto flute is seductively soothing. There’s variety too, bordering on fusion and funk with sparkling Rhodes, and then venturing back to the spiritual jazz of the opener. He even titles the closer “Mighty Yusef” and invokes the cosmos with titles “Interstellar” and “The Cosmos.”
Wickham, who recorded, produced, and mixed everything himself, channels the spirits of Alice and Yusef through a hip hop, modern-day electronic, club setting lens with UK players of those sensibilities. They are Sons of Kemet and Mulatu Astatke drummer Jon Scott, Fingathing leader Simon ‘Sneaky” Houghton (double bass/cello), Nightmares On Wax Dan “JD 73” Goldman (keys), Rick Weedon (percussion), and prominently featured harpist Amanda Whiting, like Wickham an alumnus of Manchester-based spiritual-jazz trumpeter Matthew Halsall‘s Gondwana Orchestra. Whiting’s mystical, enchanting harp playing alone will evoke Alice. In several sections also, the interplay of Wickham’s flute and Goldman’s keys are reminiscent of Les McCann and Yusef Lateef on the former’s trance-inducing, deeply romantic Invitation to Openness.
As the cover art suggests, Wickham is some ways projecting the planet’s decline from blue to red, hence the title. The music certainly has that cosmic feel in most places. Wickham comments, “It’s a culture crisis rather than a climate crisis, one that can only be solved if we go right to the core of how we live as human beings.” While his career began mostly in a funk mode, he has been moving in this interplanetary direction over the past three years. His 2018 Shamal Wind is a melding of modal jazz, Arabic sounds and other disparate electronic flourishes leading to his ethereal, beatless compositional technique. While he made danceable music in the past, this is one for the head, much more so than the feet. This is about mood and texture with improvisation taking a back seat.
Interestingly, the six tracks are essentially divided into two camps – spiritual jazz and old-school late ‘60s soundtrack-jazz heard in movies like Bullitt (1968) scored by Lalo Schifrin. The former, imbued by Wickham’s flute, Whiting’s harp and gentle electronic layering include “Blue to Red,” “The Cosmos” and “Mighty Yusef” with the title track and “Mighty Yusef” as practically bookends to the album. The edgier tracks with some beats and with Rhodes predominant are an update to the late ‘60s sounds, courtesy of more sophisticated technology and brilliant production values from Wickham. They are “Route One,” Interstellar,” and “Double Cross.” Somehow, the two forms hang together cohesively.
Ironically, even though the album conceptually presages an environmental catastrophe, there is nothing turbulent or disturbing about the music. Conversely, it is remarkably soothing and a wonderful piece of music to cap a stressful day.