REVIEW: Chip Wickham – La Sombra





Chip Wickham – La Sombra
(Lovemonk LMNK54 – CD review by Mark McKergow)

Manchester-born flautist and saxophonist Chip Wickham steps out of the sideman role with this highly effective collection, mixing groove-based acoustic jazz with atmospheric Mediterranean-inspired reflections.

Wickham has been on the road with the likes of Roy Ayers, Badly Drawn Boy, Matthew Halsall and the Craig Charles Fantasy Funk Band over the years, so he’s clearly nobody’s fool.  La Sombra is a stripped down back-to-basics affair, with a tight band who are clearly trusted to develop the right feels and grooves.  Moving from Manchester to funky Leeds and then six years in Spain have clearly left their mark on Wickham’s musical sensibilities, and this Madrid-recorded collection of originals plus one interesting cover fairly drips with Iberian passion and flair.

The title track La Sombra (‘The Shade’ in English) is a brooding and atmospheric composition conjuring up a hot afternoon, with Wickham’s flute to the fore.  The rolling piano of Gabriel Casanova provides elegant support, and drummer Antonio Pax is almost immediately heard supplying vibes lines in addition to gentle brushwork.  The tension is palpable, which makes the release into the swinging Sling Shot even more marked with Wickham’s tenor leading the way in a modal affair harking back to the 60s (in a good way). 

Red Planet and The Detour keep up the grooving mood, with lots of close-recorded overblown flute sounds really conveying the spirit of the moment, Wickham’s in-breaths nearly as prominent as his playing.  I can easily imagine these tracks being great club features for adventurous DJs.   Pushed Too Far backs off the tempo for a welcome chill, with the gentle double bass of David Salvador pushing things along as Pax gets the vibes solo he’s clearly been itching to play all along.

Tokyo Slo-Mo takes the tempo down even further, with Wickham picking up his tenor for more modal musings and Pax’s vibes again providing the main alternative colour.  The album ends with a driving cover of Garcia Lorca/Ricardo Pachón’s tune La Leyenda Del Tiempo (‘The Legend Of Time’), made famous by legendary flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla in the late 1970s.  In some ways this track captures what’s best about this CD, with Wickham’s passionate flute playing flying over the simple yet jumping trio support.

This CD shows Chip Wickham as a musician with a sense of voice and place, as well as a powerful improvisor with a welcome focus on flute.  I only wish this album was longer and more extended – the tracks seem to keep finishing too early!  Here’s hoping Wickham steps forward with more before too long.

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