Chip Wickham ‘La Sombra’ LP/CD/DIG (Lovemonk) 3/5

Flautist/saxophonist Roger “Chip” Wickham is a name you might be familiar with if you read liner notes. Since he started out playing in Manchester during the ‘90s, his credits include work with Rae and Christian, Eddie Roberts and Matthew Halsall as well as an album under the moniker Malena with partner Dan Broad. To date Wickham has only released a couple of singles in his own name, “La Sombra” is his first album. Currently based in Dubai, the album was recorded in Madrid, where he lived for some years. Musicians on the set are Gabriel Casanova on piano, David Salvador on double bass and Antonio “Pax” Álvarez on drums.
Much of Wickham’s previous work has been in a retro vein, Soul Jazz or vintage funk, and as a whole “La Sombra” takes us into similar areas. The title track is an enticing opener, one that primes and focuses the senses with its clean, soothing tones and an unhurried, lighter-than-air aura that encourages reflection and introspection. Wickham’s flute and pianist Casanova’s piano lines have enough about them to elevate and add colour to this mood in a spiritual way.

I first heard “La Sombra” last year and have been keen to hear more since. Unfortunately I have mixed feelings about the rest of the album. For me the sound, whilst admittedly rooted in Jazz of the ‘60s and ‘70s, is too derivative and lacking in individual, original touches. I find this particularly so on uptempo, Soul Jazz numbers like “Sling Shot” or “Red Planet”; compact, melodic tunes that are easy on the ear, but don’t really capture or maintain my interest. Elsewhere, down tempo tracks like “Pushed Too Far” and “Tokyo Slo Mo”, both of which have some nice work on the vibes, are pleasant enough, although I appreciate that in saying this I am damning them with faint praise. Neither has the impact of the title track.

If the retro scene is your bag then you will probably find plenty to like in this album, but for me I’m afraid that I can’t see beyond the title track.

Andy Hazell