At first glance, this duo seems to be something of a mismatch. Even though Susie Ibarra has been rightly identified as one of most refreshing percussionist-composer-bandleaders to emerge in recent years, she has not demonstrated the type of overwhelming virtuosity that bass player Mark Dresser throws down every time he plays. What Ibarra has, however, is the wherewithal to make the moment cohere, whether playing with David S. Ware's volcanic quartet or Derek Bailey's quirky guitar. It is this ability to make the quick read that serves her and the music so well on Tone Time.
For a percussionist in duo with Dresser, trying to steer the bassist is a fool's errand, and shadowing him is only a short-term proposition. His sound is huge, capable of filling any available space. Given that Dresser can turn an improvisation on a dime, leaping from two-handed pizzicato grooves to viscous overtone-rich arco clusters, or suddenly extracting ebullience from melancholy, Ibarra's decision to complement him, generally, and occasionally counter him, is therefore a smart one. Whether mining a groove with bare-bone patterns, creating offsetting color with the kulintang (a set of small Philippine gongs) or freely improvising, Ibarra does more than simply provide a backdrop, but she studiously avoids gratuitous confrontations.
Subsequently, this is an album propelled by the rapport between the musicians as much as their individual strengths. Far from a Music Minus One for budding outcats, it is more engaging than the bulk of recent releases featuring ensembles several times the size of this duo.