The Ilja quintet is led by Swiss guitarist Dimitri Howald, who wrote all the material here. An assured, space-conscious player, equally at ease with matters of flowing linear development and rubato reverie, Howald cites guitarists such as America’s Kurt Rosenwinkel and the Norwegians Lage Lund and Stian Westerhus as chief elective affinities – which should give some indication of the creativity evident throughout this intelligently conceived and thoroughly engaging release.
The leader’s processed, bright and ringing sound and attractively varied phrasing are complemented by both the darker tones and upper-register ventures of tenorist Gilsenan, another player of well-judged rhythmic variety. And the rhythm section is right on the transitional money, handling vamps, cooking swing, funky back-beats and abstracted interludes with both elegance and drive.
At times the suite-like, shape-shifting but always lucid whole projects a measured hymnal mood, while at other moments a more “outside” or venturesome element is abroad.
I would have picked out particular tracks to illustrate my overall admiration but, unfortunately, this proved impossible – as, while the CD sleeve lists seven pieces, nine registered on my player. But don’t let that put you off investigating a strikingly good debut release from this fine Swiss quintet.
The music can be sampled and bought on BandCamp: dimitrihowaldilja.bandcamp.com/album/spiritual-cycle
Blue Layers; Interlude; For A Little Friend; White Shoes; Taxi 31; A Murder Of Crows; Spiritual Cycle (51.31)
Dimitri Howald (elg, v); Michael Gilsenam (ts); Tom Millar (p); Jeremie Krütli (b); Tobias Schmid (d). Maur, 18-20 January 2020.