Essential New Music: Ibises’ “In The Swim”

Ibises is a trio of Chicago-based musicians who were not even a band yet when they played the gig that became In The Swim. Their first show, in fall 2019, came about when bassist Nick Macri (a veteran of C-Clamp, Stirrup, Euphone and various Ken Vandermark projects) was invited to be the subject of a segment of the Option Series. Option is a show that features improvising musicians first performing, then talking about what they do.

As befits a guy who typically works collaboratively, Macri invited a couple other players to join him. After performing a solo bass set dedicated to late Birthday Party alumnus Tracy Pew, he was joined by guitarist Steve Marquette (another Vandermark associate who’s also a member of the Few) and drummer Dan Bitney (Tortoise, Isotope 217). Macri and Marquette struck up a push-and-pull dynamic, which sustained energy through passages of rumbling rock momentum, interludes of dubby groove dissection and episodes of subdued, prickly interplay. Bitney’s contributions were much looser than his playing in Tortoise, but just as propulsive. Their chemistry was not lost on anyone, least of all the musicians. On the spot, a band was born.

In other times, the trio would probably have followed it up with low-key gigs around town, and that first encounter would be a fondly talked-about memory. But COVID turned up before Macri, Marquette and Bitney had a chance to play again, so while they sat and waited for the pandemic to die down, they tapped a fourth party to work some transformative magic upon the one document they had in hand. Casey Rice (a sound engineer whose resumé includes manning soundboards for Stereolab and Tortoise, as well as supplying Derek Bailey with electronic noise and beats) took on the task of turning that raw material into a record. Rice’s interventions correspond to that apologue about the frog who doesn’t notice that the heat’s been turned up in the water they’re swimming in. But instead of killing the frog, Rice’s treatments gradually abstract Ibises’ sound, then bring it into sharp-edged focus, presenting a hyperreal image of a power trio with potential to spare.

—Bill Meyer