Sydney go-to guitarist Illya Szwec has to be aware of the irony of titling his new album Introducing Illya Szwec. Ok, it is his debut album as a leader, but the man has been around forever, played with everybody and very definitely needs no introduction.

The bio that came with my review copy is two solid pages of star-time names – not two pages of the usual double-spaced flummery, puffing up a thin resume as too many are, but two pages dense with names such as ‘Continental’ Robert Susz (Szwec has played in his Continental Blues Party for the past 7 years), Declan Kelly (gigs and recording on his Adrift LP), boogie-king Don Hopkins, boogie-queen Bridie King, The Wolverines, Wendy Saddington, Jim Conway, Ray Beadle, Johnny G, Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges, and such.

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It is such a virtual phone book of Australian blues, rock and roots royalty that it could easily sway my review of Introducing Illya Szwec – hell, that’s what PR is for, right?

Which is exactly why I totally ignored it and did my best to listen to Introducing Illya Szwec with clean, unencumbered, objective ears (hell, that’s what record reviewers are for, right?).

Open ‘Ain’t Nothing That A Young Girl Can Do’ instantly brought a smile to my jaded sensibilities – a warm Meters-style NOLA groove gently pushed along by Szwec’s gently needling Telecaster. Pure taste – which left me a tad apprehensive as well: there is a musical element in this town which exalts ‘taste’ above all else, sometimes expunging all grit and juice from the music in the process. I hoped this was not going to be the case as I listened deeper.

It wasn’t – second track, a cover of Cream’s psychedelic anthem, ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ blew away my concerns. With a cap-S Soulful vocal from Stephanie Marchant and driven by Ed Schots’ muscular horns, Szwec’s ‘Sunshine…’ owes as much to Ginger Baker’s 1970 Airforce version as it does to any number of cooking Stax soul treatments.

The sole Szwec composition here, ‘Lois Maxwell’ is a witty and snappin’ piece of James Bond-inspired reggae (the lady of the title is the actress who played the smart but unrequited Miss Moneypenny in many Bond movies). Reggae pops (literally) up across Introducing Illya Szwec on the smooth ‘Missing You’ (nicely felt vocal from Troy Blanch) and in a more funky, ska-hot form on James Booker’s ‘Big Nick’.szwec1

It is the loose-limbed forms such as reggae and funk that seem to fit Illya Szwec’s musical shape well. His playing, whether fuzzed-up on ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ or hollow-body howlin’ on ‘Fire Eater’ (driven by Clayton Doley’s happening Hammond), combines a warmth of personality with a cool passion – in short, in common with most great instrumentalists it has a very human voice.

He also speaks fluent Blues – hardly surprising as it is of course the Blues which is the dark river that flows through all of this music, like rich blood under skin. Check out Szwec and Marchant’s take on Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s ‘When My Love Comes Down’. Tingle-making stuff.

Too often a booked-up super-instrumentalist releases an album that ultimately amounts to not much more than a professional’s portfolio – a kind of aural show-reel of their skill-set – with all the glassy blandness that such an approach implies.

Introducing Illya Szwec ain’t that at all. Sure, the skills and craft are there – which is why this album is crammed to the rafters with Sydney’s finest players. But they are all having a time of it, obviously inspired and brightened up by the big heart that beats deep inside Illya Szwec’s guitar playing.

Published September 2013 on theorangepress.net

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