Ibarra is probably best known for her stint as drummer for the improv-heavy David S. Ware Quartet, but Songbird Suite mostly showcases her skills as a composer. The album begins and ends with loping jazz tempos and rather conventional solos from violinist Jenny Choi and pianist Craig Taborn, but most of its tracks feature meditative explorations of texture rather than free jazz blowouts or head/solos structures. Taborn mostly stays in the background, offering lumbering, dense chords and high-end tangles to accompany Choi, whose careful phrasing and warm vibrato are heavily indebted to classical music. Ibarra herself often avoids a standard drum set and instead deliberately and pensively plays nonwestern and auxiliary percussion instruments. On "Trance No. 3," for example, Ibarra gets by with only a few repeated tympani thumps, while Choi's playing revolves around just two sustained chords. Taborn's atonal clusters sound more agitated as the piece progresses, and guest Ikue Mori cues choppy laptop noises that sound like marbles falling down stairs. Songbird Suite features plenty of free jazz signifiers -- it's mostly atonal, and the musicians share an open-ended approach to rhythm. But the structures and textures of Ibarra's pieces are carefully predetermined, and she doesn't confine her musicians to their typical roles as jazz instrumentalists. Unlike many free jazzers, Ibarra uses improvisation in the service of her compositions, not the other way around.
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AllMusic Review by Charlie Wilmoth