EK or Electric Kulintang is Susie Ibarra (composer, percussionist, vocalist) and Roberto Rodriguez (composer, percussionist, beat maker), a pair of star tub-thumpers on the admittedly rarified Downtown New York scene. Filipina-American Ibarra has performed and recorded with John Zorn, Dave Douglas, Pauline Oliveros, Thurston Moore, and Yo La Tengo, among others, while Havana-born Rodriguez has manned the skins for Rufus Wainwright, Joe Jackson, Marc Ribot, Celia Cruz, Israel "Cachao" Lopez, Paquito D' Rivera, Julio Iglesias, Miami Sound Machine, Paul Simon, Lloyd Cole, and, well you get the idea. The Kulintang in Electric Kulintang refers to music that comes from the Philippines, named after a percussion instrument that consists of eight gongs. The project formed in 2005, after Ibarra and Rodriguez traveled to the Philippines to research live Kulintang music and dance. EK combines this traditional form with Rodriguez's percussion and programmed beats, along with Ibarra's vocals, and drum kit to create a sound fuses the traditional with the modern.
The melding of old and new--comprising much of today's "world music"--is too often less than the sum of its parts. Stiff electronic beats sterilize the swing of the earthy ethnic rhythms they purport to honor. Not so EK: Ibarra and Rodriguez have internalized the essence of the Kulintang style, and through the same inherent musicality that makes them such in-demand accompanists for the above litany of stars, great and small, they manage to seamlessly integrate field recordings, jazz drumming, dance beats, electric keyboards and guitars, noise, and Cuban percussion without diluting the power of the music that attracted them in the first place.
Such is their sure-footedness that on "The Ancients *Swingset Live 2005*" Thurston Moore's brash guitar seems to emanating from the same streets as the sampled cries of Philippine children. "Golden Dream" blends sampled pizzicato strings, Oz Noy's electronica guitar, Ibarra's deft cymbal and snare work, and some Rodriguez percussion with the ubiquitous Kulintang gongs, effecting an atmosphere that is not merely generically dreamlike but of a specific time and place. Ibarra's emotive wordless vocals on "Shade" and "Bangka" reveal that with a lyricist and pop producer she could, should she desire, have a second career as a hit pop singer. Rarely has music with this wide a range of influences been more focused. Dialects shows that music can have the highest artistic standards and be thoroughly enjoyable at the same time. • Michael Ross