If there was such a thing as free-jazz hit singles, the opening track from the Susie Ibarra Trio's Songbird Suite would have Carson Daly and Casey Kasem counting down "Azul" for weeks, if not months. As Ibarra's drums stay in the background, pianist Craig Taborn and violinist Jennifer Choi play the bouncy melody for an uncharacteristic upbeat event. In comparison, the remainder of Songbird Suite is less comely and dynamic than the opener, with most tracks being more subtle and with less overt melodies. "Azul" is a great track and-like a majority of the album-proves Ibarra to be an outstanding composer in addition to being an inventive percussionist.
Songbird Suite, in essence, fuses together the concepts of her previous two CDs, 1999's trio date Radiance (Hopscotch) and 2000's jazz/classical/world-music experiment Flower After Flower (Tzadik). With Taborn and Choi replacing Radiance's multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore and violinist Charles Burnham, the trio has become even more spacious and delicate. Songbird's pieces often become tense (especially when the raucous digital manipulator Ikue Mori guests on three tracks), but never surrender their elegance or calm demeanor. Pieces like the title track and "Passing Clouds" show the delicate balance the trio achieves in allowing each other room to calmly assert their individual takes, while maintaining a cohesion inside Ibarra's open compositions. Songbird Suite also includes reworkings of "Illumination" and the title track from Flower After Flower, both of which are more open and warm than the originals.