Christoph Irniger Pilgrim


Swiss tenor saxophonist Christoph Irniger’s fourth album with Pilgrim, his working quintet, sounds as if it were conceived as the soundtrack to a horror movie. The music often is slow-moving, creepy and amorphous, like a menacing blob of oozing, acrid sludge. That isn’t to say the music is too sluggish; it has life. And several of the tunes follow a durable structure, beginning with freely improvised rubato passages, edging out slowly and tentatively, peaking with intense solos.

For the most part, Irniger and guitarist Dave Gisler provide the narrative tension, while pianist Stefan Aeby, drummer Michi Stulz and bassist Raffaele Bossard create the mood. Aeby pounds out dissonant tone clusters, Stulz offers ominous cymbal work and Bossard lays down the foundation with round, raw notes. Irniger’s closest corollary on the saxophone is probably Mark Turner—his sound consisting of vaporous ghost tones, guttural low-end blurps and dry squawks at the higher end of the saxophone’s register.

Irniger, 39, is based in Zurich, and also plays in Cowboys From Hell, a trio with a propensity for wildness. On Crosswinds, though, the bandleader mostly holds back. His previous Pilgrim record, 2016’s Big Wheel Live, is by comparison more kinetic than what’s found here—fitting, since the quintet probably would have wanted to hook an audience with a more energetic live performance. But in the studio, Pilgrim is a different beast: subtler, more attuned to texture and gradual development. This is an album of wise restraint.