Kicking off with the blithe, kind of New Age-y "Azul," drummer Susie Ibarra's latest disc as a leader, "Songbird Suite," initially sounds like a continuation of 2000's timeless and sublime "Flower After Flower." The first thing the laser picks up is Ibarra's sprightly brushwork organically dovetailing with Jennifer Choi's violin and Craig Taborn's piano melody. But from there, composition is pretty much jettisoned and Ibarra's trio (augmented on some cuts by Ikue Mori's electronics) kicks into full-on free-improv mode.
This isn't necessarily a good thing. Ibarra, with her singular, pan-ethnic approach to drumming, can sound like a friggin' percussion army when she wants to. But where her work is engaging, Choi and Taborn--alternating between almost-inaudible and nails-on-the-chalkboard--mostly sound nostalgic, like they're trying to saw and hammer out the long-gone glory days of free jazz. Sure, there are exceptions: The percussion-poem "Trance No.1" sounds like sparse urban gamelan, and the Brubeck-esque "Passing Clouds" features some of the most beautiful and restrained melodies on the disc. Overall, though, "Songbird Suite" never transcends the limitations of the genre. "Flower After Flower," with its gentile, pointillistic composing reminiscent of New York School folks such as Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff, illuminated the way ahead for underground jazz; "Songbird Suite" is just preaching to the choir.