Chip Wickham ‘Shamal Wind’ LP/CD/DIG (Lovemonk) 5/5

Chip Wickham seemed to appear from nowhere in 2017 with the release of his now critically acclaimed album, ‘La Sombra’, on the Madrid based Lovemonk label, but his musical CV is deep and extensive. As performer and composer over the last 30 years, Wickham has worked with a diverse list including The New Mastersounds, Dwight Trible and Jimpster, covering funk, jazz, deep house and everything else in between, especially working in the north of England and prominently in the Manchester and Leeds areas. For ‘Shamal Wind’, the saxophonist and flautist mines the various corners of the jazz world, from modal and spiritual, to Latin and fusion, utilising a mainly sextet line-up as his previous release was mostly focussed around a quartet configuration. Other players here include pianist Phil Wilkinson, drummer Antonio Alvarez Pax, percussionist David ‘El Indio’ Garcia, Vibraphone by Ton Risco and on upright bass David Salvador, with further contributions from keyboard player Gabri Casanova and renowned UK trumpeter Matthew Halsall, both appearing on one track each.

Wickham’s absorption of the Middle East, his now home, and spiritual jazz amalgamate for the title track ‘Shamal Wind’, the longest piece of the set at 8’40”. References to Yusef Lateef are obvious, but this contemplative and absorbing number sets the tone for the rest of the album’s sensibility. The slightly funk influenced ‘Snake Eyes’ centres around an infectious 1-bar groove which leaves room for the expressive piano stylings of Wilkinson and Wickham’s flute performance, which is very reminiscent of Jeremy Steig. ‘Soho Strut’ is an obvious nod to the influential London jazz scene with its prominent percussion, melodic piano, flute and vibraphone parts envisioning smoky jazz venues and vibrant vinyl record stores – or maybe that’s just me, but this would have easily been played in Digwalls by messrs Peterson and Forge – if it was still a regular Sunday affair.

‘The Mirage’ adds Matthew Halsall on trumpet for this dense and textured composition with Halsall being the perfect companion for the journey, with the flawless balance of flute, trumpet and vibes creating an ideal symmetry. ‘Barrio 71’ is an uptempo afro-Cuban influenced dancer with its 6/8 time signature, baritone saxophone and vibes unison and strong piano additions from Phil Wilkinson. An obvious DJ friendly cut. The final track, ‘Rebel No. 23’, a previously released 7” in 2017 with non-album track ‘The Beatnik’ on the flip is another uptempo number that adds the Wurlitzer electric piano via Gabri Casanova, who has worked with Wickham on previous projects including on the soul jazz/Hammond based ‎’Space Race’ by Blue Mode in 2016.

Strong melodies and counterpoints permeate throughout ‘Shamal Wind’, with all compositions written exclusively by Chip. The group performances are of a high standard but each piece works as a co-operative, allowing for all band members’ own voices to be heard but without being forced. Although Wickham’s previous release, ‘La Sombra’ (2017), placed his work right next to his contemporaries, ‘Shamal Wind’ will hopefully increase his presence as a major player in jazz especially as a recording artist. Many jazz artists struggle to translate a live experience into a recorded medium, but again, Wickham manages to create a body of work that indulges both practices. This is an album that ticks many boxes, including in its writing, performances and arrangements, as well as the audio quality of the mixing and mastering, with the recording to analogue tape a bonus. And as mentioned, the solos are very lyrical and expressive rather than being contrived, adding to a very cohesive piece of work. Possibly one of the best jazz albums of the year.

Live: London 13th June | Camden Assembly

Damian Wilkes