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Songbird Suite offers some of the most direct and heartfelt music you could ever want to hear. Honestly. The depth of these pieces is reflected in just about every aspect of recording. For instance, the very title of the album acts as a unifying theme throughout the individual pieces. Every song seems imbued with bird-like qualities... a spiralling/elliptical rhythm pattern in many of these pieces suggests the wiry sophistication of a warbler; Craig Taborn's piano themes and electronic textures possess a twittering high energy common to a flock of birds roosting in the branches of winter trees; and Jennifer Choi takes her violin for fanciful flights high into the air. There is an air of Cecil Taylor's music invested into these pieces.
Having said that, I think this music is more open and initially inviting than that characterization would suggest. An overall sense of fun, frolic, and playfulness captured by this group allows the listener into the inner workings of each song. This is a very attractive element, and a great way to introduce people to "difficult music."
Susie Ibarra studied percussion with Melford Graves, Vernell Fournier, and Denis Charles, and it's easy to hear the connection she shares with those great musicians. She fully embraces the textural intricacies of Mr. Graves' work in her brush, kit, and cymbal technique. She has a rhythmic precision and dancing quality in her tom and snare work that tips its hat to Mr. Fournier's work with Ahmad Jamal, and she has the drive of Denis Charles. Like any attentive and brilliant student she has taken the insights of her teachers, integrated them into her psyche, and developed her own voice. Her compositions and playing on this album are brilliant.
These compositions move freely between the worlds of modern classical, musique concrete, free jazz, new music, and oddly enough... ancient Greek music. An underlying discipline to this album is reminiscent of Sun Ra's smaller ensemble work. There is a sense that we are being invited into heretofore unknown worlds. The first piece moves and swings with angular piano lines that twist and shake, staccato violin, and fluid percussion. The second piece explores the modern-day implications of a tone poem...absolutely beautiful and thoroughly modern. The third piece is a jungle filled with tropical birds and filtered sunlight. The fourth piece is chamber music for Salvador Dali's parlor. The fifth piece is a duet between Ibarra and special guest Ikue Mori playing her laptop computer.
Rather than offering more colorful descriptions of her work here, I'll simply state that Ms. Ibarra and company have created a masterpiece of modern music. This album is one of my 2002 top ten.