British flautist and saxophonist Chip Wickham is a graduate of the fertile 1990s modal-jazz scene in the northern city of Manchester. It has produced some stellar talents, amongst whom saxophonist Nat Birchall and trumpeter Matthew Halsall shine most prominently. But while Birchall and Halsall, who guests on one track on Shamal Wind, have each notched up a decent number of releases under their own namessome of them on Halsall's home town-focused Gondwana labelShamal Wind is only Wickham's second album as leader. It follows La Sombra, released by Spanish label LoveMonk in 2017, some 25 years after Wickham began his career as a professional musician. Quite why it took Wickham so long to make his debut is a mystery, but it may have something to do with his decision to leave Britain for Spain in the early 2010s. It certainly has nothing to do with his talent, which is prodigious both as a player and a composer. The good news, anyway, is that Wickham is making up for lost time. Like the earlier album, Shamal Wind is a blinder, a mellifluous and muscular mix of meditative spiritual jazz ("Shamal Wind," "The Mirage"), fired-up soul jazz ("Snake Eyes," "Barrio 71," "Rebel No.23") and serpentine hard-bop ("Soho Strut"). It is all delightfully retro and sounds, in the best way, like it might have been recorded anytime between the late 1960s and the late 2010s. Wickham's band includes three players from La Sombredouble bassist David Salvador, drummer Antonio Alvarez Pax and pianist Gabri Casanova (who is heard only on the closing track, where he plays Wurlitzer electric piano). On the first album, Pax occasionally doubled on vibraphone, but on Shamal Wind fulltime vibraphonist Ton Risco joins the lineup. He makes a perfect frontline partner for Wickham, who is mostly heard on flute and alto flute. Casanova's place at the acoustic piano is taken by Phil Wilkinson, and David El Indio joins the band on hand drums and percussion. It is a groovalicious line-up and Shamal Wind is an unpretentious and well-crafted feel-good album. Having recently recovered from a life-threatening illness, Wickham has vowed to make five albums in as many years. Roll on 2019 and the next one.
Chip Wickham: flute, alto flute, baritone saxophone; Ton Risco: vibraphone; Phil Wilkinson: piano; David Salvador: double bass; Antonio Alvarez Pax: drums; David El Indio: congas, bongos, bell and percussion; Matthew Halsall: trumpet (4); Gabri Casanova: Wurlitzer piano (6).
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