It's not always easy to feel uplifted and optimistic these days, when reasons to be downhearted seem to overwhelm the reasons to be cheerful. When an album's title refers to a planet's descent from life-giving blue to the deadness of red (Mars, in this context, but British flautist Chris Wickham fears that Earth may be heading in the same direction) it hardly appears likely that it's one for the "cheerful" pile: and yet Blue To Red
, from Wickham, is one of the most uplifting, joyous and beautiful recordings of the year.
Wickham is in his third decade as a professional musician. He started out in the hip-hop and drum 'n' bass scene of his native Manchester, played with artists and bands including Nightmare On Wax, Badly Drawn Boy and Roy Ayers
, worked as a composer, producer & remixer, and eventually relocated to Madrid all before the release of his first album under his own name, 2017's La Sombra
. His second solo album, Shamal Wind
, appeared in 2018. Both of those albums rightly garnered critical praise and featured Wickham on saxophone as well as flutes but on this, his third release, he concentrates on flute and alto flute as well as writing all six tracks and producing the album.
His flute playing is characterized by a soft, ethereal tone, but he brings a harder edge to the instrument when that is called fornotably on "Route One" and "Double Cross," the funkiest tracks on the record. For the most part, Blue To Red
is filled with dreamlike, meditative, music of great beauty. The title track, which is also the album's opener, is a fine example of Wickham's talent for crafting songs which are both immediately engaging and also capable of repaying repeated close listening, revealing further layers of sound from all of the musicians. Unsurprisingly, his flute takes on the lead role, but the album's sound owes much to the pairing of flute and Amanda Whiting
's harp, a distinctive and delightful combination. Alice Coltrane
is one of Wickham's inspirations and the closing track, "Mighty Yusef," is named for another, Yusef Lateef
. Wickham's rich, warm, flute takes the melody line, while the rest of the band play with commendable restraint to create a seductive, positive, mood.
Blue To Red; Route One; Interstellar; The Cosmos; Double Cross; Mighty Yusef.