Around four billion years ago, Mars was a world much like our own. Evidence suggests that it once had a thick atmosphere capable of supporting water, an essential ingredient for life, but that over time this shield was lost. With protection gone, lakes vanished and the environment was decimated. The planet turned from blue to red.
It is this process that inspired Chip Wickham’s new album, an otherworldly collection of spiritual jazz that has a remarkable ability to pose fundamental questions about our own planet.
Wickham was born in Brighton but cut his musical teeth up in Manchester, a city he originally moved to in order to study an economics degree. In a parallel universe that might have been his calling but instead he chose to focus on honing his craft as a flautist and saxophonist, and appeared on Matthew Halsall’s debut Sending My Love in 2008. He had moved to Madrid by the time the Gondwana Records boss’ career subsequently took off.
From that point it was nearly a decade before Wickham produced his own full-length record, La Sombra in 2016 but since then he has been prolific – Blue to Red is his third release in four years, following on from 2018’s Shamal Wind. What the new album does so wonderfully is balance the kind of heavier tracks heard on previous work with mystic, cinematic compositions inspired by spiritual cornerstones such as Alice Coltrane and Yusef Lateef. This record is a trip no doubt about it.
Take ‘The Cosmos’ as an example – the distorted Rhodes piano intro sounds more like a snippet of interplanetary communication than a musical instrument. Simon Houghton’s soft double bass underpins the journey, allowing Wickham’s skill and control as a flautist to shine. There is no ego here, nothing superfluous about his playing. A brief silence five minutes in offers a pause and a moment of reflection, before Amanda Whiting’s harp swoons back in sending shivers up your spine as the odyssey continues. The album needs the counterpoint of loud, funky sounds in the
form of Route One and Double Cross to keep the listener from drifting away completely, and Wickham’s sense of equilibrium here is admirable.
These are unusual circumstances to be releasing music but for this record, the timing seems strangely prescient. Recent lockdowns across the globe have dramatically impacted global emissions, with coronavirus responsible for the sharpest drop in carbon output since records began. Blue to Red offers a perfect soundtrack to this process of healing, whilst warning that for Earth’s sake it must be allowed to continue.