New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: filipino music

A Shimmering, Potently Relevant New Album From Fearless Composer Susie Ibarra

Percussionist and composer Susie Ibarra‘s rapturous, starkly orchestrated new album Walking on Water touches on the two most deadly ecological crises of our time: the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and global warming. Inspired by a breathtaking series of paintings by Mako Fujimura dedicated to the victims of the March 11, 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear explosions, Ibarra also addresses a familiar theme in her work, the perils of climate change. With the Japanese government threatening to dump millions of gallons of lethal radioactive water from the still-unstable Fukushima site into the Pacific, Ibarra could not have picked a more appropriate time to release this record of what she terms as “spirituals” at Bandcamp.

Ibarra’s DreamTime Ensemble here includes Jennifer Choi on violin, Yves Dharambaj on cello, Claudia Acuna on vocals, Jake Landau on guitar and keys, with Yuka C. Honda adding electronic elements. The music is much more dynamic than you would expect from such troubling central themes and includes many field recordings of water, from melting ice in the Himalayas to water tanks in Washington State.

The first track is Elegy in Azurite, a shimmery, circling theme, part terse, lush classical atmosphere aloft with Acuna’s vocalese, and part pointillistic Filipino kulintang music. Landau’s spiky acoustic guitar pierces the mist in the bouncy Light East of Sendai. His organ falls away, leaving Ibarra’s cymbals and gongs to mingle with melting ice sonics in Waterfalling.

Assertive, flamenco-tinged guitar chords anchor resonant, shivering phrases from violin and cello over Ibarra’s rustles in Coastal Birds The next track is High Wave, a mashup of found sounds of water amid nebulous acoustic and electronic ambience. Acuna sails soulfully above a syncopated organ groove and Ibarra’s slinky drums in the aptly titled Natural Lightness.

Night Rain sounds like exactly that, a field recording with birds chattering away as they take cover. Violin and cello rise warily over Landau’s lush arpeggios in Divine Forgiveness, followed by a fluttery tone poem, Celestial Migration. Floating Azurite makes a good segue, somber atmosphere contrasting with the mandolin-like delicacy of Landau’s guitars.

The bossa-tinged swing of New York With Grace comes as a real surprise, Landau’s spiny textures and the strings adding a surreal, disquieted edge. The album’s big epic is aptly titled Listening at Himalayan Waterfalls, a found-sound pastiche which Ibarra captured with underwater microphones. The group close with Floating Along Banares, a summery field recording of a boat trip mashed up with distantly Indian-flavored melodies. The implication seems to be that this kind of natural camaraderie is just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) of what we stand to lose if we don’t stop burning things to power the world. The apocalypse never sounded so dreamy. Count this as one of the best and most captivating albums of 2021.

A Lively, Fearless, Colorful New Album From Susie Ibarra

Susie Ibarra is one of the most distinctive and interesting composers to emerge from the New York downtown jazz scene of the 90s. She’s best known for her Electric Kulintang project, which draws on magical, pointillistic sounds from her Filipina heritage as a stepping-off point for improvisation and cross-pollination. Her latest album, Talking Gong – streaming at Bandcamp – is a trio collaboration with pianist Alex Peh and flutist Claire Chase.

The album’s centerpiece is the almost seventeen-minute title track, referencing the gong’s use as a means of communication in the Philippines, in the same vein as African talking drums. It’s typical Ibarra, Peh negotiating its rigorous staccato and rippling textures with a steely intensity, the bandleader adding nebulous and sparkling color, Chase’s breathy pops and coyly oscillating textures leading to a more-or-less straightforward drive. A wary strut with moody bass flute calms to mystical sparseness, chiming passages alternating with storminess, clustering frenzy, deep-forest rapture and what could be lumberjacks there. The Asian pentatonics come to the forefront more and more as the music develops.

Peh’s bell-like staccato and brooding resonance contrasts with Ibarra’s spare cymbals and toms in Paniniwala (Belief). The solo piano piece Dancesteps vividly brings to mind the imploring repetition of Jehan Alain’s iconic organ work Litanies, with similarly stark harmonies but more nimble rhythms and a rapturous bird-on-the-wire interlude midway through.

Speaking of the avian kingdom, there are two tracks here inspired by our feathered friends. Ibarra’s evocation of a hummingbird in Kolumbrí is much more than just delicate, muted fluttering. We get a taste of the flowers and greenery and this creature’s businesslike activity, which is less hyper and far more mysterious than you might think. Chase is deputized, solo, to play Sunbird, a native Philippine species, with cheery, resonant lines, circumspect ambience and anxious stepping around: it’s a showcase for her daunting extended technique.

There are also four largely improvisational miniatures here which Ibarra calls “meriendas,” meaning “snacks.” The first is flitting and muted; the second is a jaunty, trililng flute/piano conversation. Chase dances between Peh’s brooding droplets in the third, and all three musicians join in a ticklishly jungly thicket in the final one.

Not only is this entertaining music: it’s a triumph of artistic fearlessness. It’s impossible to remember what ridiculous restrictions Andrew Cuomo had put in place, in violation of citizens’ Constitutional right to free assembly, when the trio recorded this album at a (presumably) empty SUNY campus space last July. Whatever the case, Ibarra, Peh and Chase made the record undeterred. Let that be an inspiration for the rest of us.

Get Lost in Susie Ibarra’s Chiming, Hypnotic Philippine Sounds on Governors Island

Percussionist Susie Ibarra, a mainstay of the downtown scene since the 90s, draws on her Filipina heritage to create an often mesmerizing blend of traditional bell ensemble sounds and jazz. She’s leading her aptly named DreamTime Ensemble this Saturday afternoon, July 13 at 3 PM, playing a free show outdoors in front of Building 10A in the park in the middle of Governors Island. Ferries leave from the old Staten Island Ferry terminal, and from the landing where Bergen Street meets the Brooklyn waterfront, on the half hour during the afternoon; a roundtrip ticket is $3. Ibarra is also at Issue Project Room on July 27 at 8 for $20/$15 stud/srs.

Ibarra’s five-part Song of the Bird King suite, with her slightly smaller Electric Kulintang quartet – streaming at Spotify – capsulizes the kind of dream state and flickering magic which have become her signature sound. From the first slides of Oz Noy’s acoustic guitar and Lefteris Bournias’ otherworldly, microtonal Balkan tenor sax over the bandleader’s ripples and pings, the effect is psychedelic to the extreme.

Her fellow percussionist Roberto Rodriguez drives the music forward – as well as round and round – with his drums and electronic loops. The suite’s epic first part, Of the Invisible rises and recedes, sometimes with majestic echoes of Pink Floyd, other times a mashup of ancient, fluttering and trilling Balkan sounds mingling with Ibarra’s steady pointillisms.

Part two, 21 Million Hectares (a reference to the Philippines’ forest acreage prior to global warming) comes across as a gamelanesque take on psychedelic cumbia, a shuffling, loopy thicket of beats underpinning Ibarra’s catchy riffage and Bournias’ achingly gorgeous, bagpipe-like phrasing. The third section, simply titled The Dream is more spare, echoey and evocative of loungey 90s trip-hop.

Spare bottleneck guitar and Bournias’ long, desolate birdcall sax echo over a martial, practically industrial beat in Indigo Banded Kingfisher. The concluding segment, Migratory has more of a swaying, strolling groove: until Bournias’ meticulously modulated microtones kick in, it sounds like a traditional Filipino ensemble taking a stab at Midnight Starr-style early 80s electro. To quote Jeff Lynne – another guy who knew something about early 80s electro – it’s strange magic.