Saturday, March 24, 2007

Susie Ibarra Trio - 23/03/2007@Beursschouwburg, Brussel

[All photography by Jean-Philippe Burg. Click to enlarge.]

Susie Ibarra - d
Jennifer Choi - vln
Craig Taborn - p

I'd long read many glowing words about Susie Ibarra without ever hearing her. Even though she didn't seem to actually play all that much, every single note she did play fully justified the praise. Her movements, even when issuing conduction-style hand signals rather than playing drums, exuded a tai chi grace.

The concert started with a great rhythm piece called "Left Hand Right Hand Song" that attributed a tight percussive pattern to each player. The violin would briefly break away for some melodic rhapsodising and the piano would occasionally elaborate on the pattern, but it generally stayed focused, without becoming overly fussy.

"Black And White" was a violin solo set against a backdrop of birdsong, bells and a pair of female voices, one speaking in English and the other I guess in Chinese (though, who am I to say? All my Chinese comes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero). Things took a really strange turn when the backdrop became someone playing and singing Flamenco. I was puzzled.

This was followed by the afore-mentioned conduction, a dry pointillistic piano-violin affair. By now, Ibarra hadn't played in maybe fifteen minutes, but when she did pick up her sticks, things instantly became a lot better. There's something ancient and calming about her playing, but with a firm, immediately bracing undercurrent.

"Dance Steps" was a series of vignettes that could be seen as illustrating various ways of dancing, from romantic to rhythmic to intimate. It started with a long section featuring Craig Taborn alone. I've seen him three times now (in Tim Berne's trio with Tom Rainey and with Chris Potter) and every time he amazes me, not least with his rhythmic abilities. When a dampened string allowed him to use a key percussively, drummer Yves Peeters, sitting next to me, broke out into a huge smile. Eventually, drums and violin joined in to create a quiet, floating, eerie atmosphere.

The next three pieces were in almost shocking contrast to what had gone before, as each instrument returned to its traditional role. A swinging cabaret waltz with an exotic melody was followed by a lovely, sad tune. Then Ibarra and Taborn struck up a sunny, layered groove, over which Choi improvised, a little clumsily until the other two started letting go of the groove. When they finally returned to it, Taborn and Ibarra started shifting it around in really subtle ways, which kept things dancey and made them delightfully not-quite-right at the same time.