Well-traveled in traditional Eastern percussion groups and the downtown free jazz scene, drummer Susie Ibarra brings a unique sound to any ensemble. A textural, quiet dramatist who's sometimes minimalist, Ibarra rarely keeps time in a conventional sense, but her drumming finds ways to insinuate itself into all kinds of settings with great purpose. Ibarra's Flower After Flower, part of the Tzadik composer series, showcases both her composition and drumming skills. The recording consists of four long pieces (all around 10 minutes or longer), separated by shorter solo improvisations, which Ibarra calls fractals. She takes two herself (the opening and closing), leaving one apiece to pianist/flutist Cooper Moore and accordionist Pauline Oliveros.
The longer pieces have a processional, somber quality to them -- not unlike a Sun Ra march -- and a carefully considered, delicate beauty. Ibarra builds her music out of sustained tones, elongated shapes, variations on simple melodies, and austere harmonies. She's especially attuned to the ensemble sound, to which the solos are subordinate, but only in the same way that a fractal is subordinated to a larger emanation. With that in mind, the musicians Ibarra chose for the album are perfectly attuned to her collective mentality. In one particular moment of egoless beauty on the song "The Ancients," Ibarra's husband, Assif Tsahar, and Chris Speed fold their lovely bass clarinet/clarinet (respectively) duet into the overtones from Ibarra's kulintang. This setting proves to be ideal for the drummer, who only keeps a steady pulse a few times on the recording. She most often treats her percussion as an equal contributor to the group sound, and her drawn out drum rolls and cymbal washes add to the vibe of a tune as much as the brassy trumpet outbursts from Wadada Leo Smith or the bass drones from John Lindberg.
On Flower, it's as if Ibarra wanted to display the component parts of her sound openly and within the larger fabric of her music. In both the fractals and in the solos that fit between and within the sustained tones and delicate harmonies of the longer pieces, the album has a cumulative effect. The music radiates outward, built in larger emanations of like-sounding smaller parts. Ibarra opens the album with whole notes and fluttering reeds in "Illumination," only to break it down into its component sound. By the end of "Human Beginnings," the final fourth and longer piece on the album, the remaining ensemble has reconstituted itself, with a sound vaguely resembling post-bop. This goes on for only a few minutes. The piece quickly fades before the album closes with a final fractal -- the solo kit of Ibarra herself. Though at times introverted and seldom as catchy as her earlier album Radiance, Flower benefits greatly from Ibarra's folkish inclinations; her spacious, stark, and often meditative sound; and her like-minded collaborators. The effect can be striking -- Ibarra's music has the economy and directness of haiku.