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LaDonna Smith & Davey Williams 

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LaDonna Smith & Davey Williams

In the mid-70s, a wave of American free improvisers responded to the gauntlet thrown down by the Europeans over the previous decade. Musically eclectic and deeply invested in the politics of self-production, this far-flung battalion included saxophonist John Zorn, cellist Tom Cora (then Corra), synthesizer player Bob Ostertag, pianist Wayne Horvitz, guitarists Eugene Chadbourne, Henry Kaiser, and Davey Williams, and LaDonna Smith, who plays violin and viola. Since then none of the bunch has remained more committed to pure free play than Williams and Smith. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, they've sustained such a strong musical partnership that an astute listener can hear the empathy--lightning-quick response time, matched by a profound ability to totally disregard each other. Both maintain connections to the international neosurrealist movement, and even after 20-plus years together their improvising has the whimsy of automatic writing: Smith's swooping viola lines might barrel headlong into Williams's repeater-pistol ostinatos, or the guitarist's wavy wang-bar antics might suddenly be augmented by the fiddler's incisive, aerobatic voice. Though he's gained a bigger audience through his work in the out-rock group Curlew, Williams's playing hasn't gotten the adulation it deserves from guitar freaks: a frightening, flat-picking monster who came up playing blues with the Johnny Shines Band, he's also the architect of an approach he calls "object guitar," in which nonmusical objects like baseball mitts, electric shavers, rubber fish, and kitchen whisks, chosen for both their sonic and their visual impact, are placed like leeches on the instrument. Together, Williams and Smith edit the Improvisor, the only magazine dedicated exclusively to free music, and have released many of their own records on Transmuseq, a label they've run since 1977. These include White Earth Streak (1983), a genuine classic of free improvisation with German bassist Torsten MŸller and trombonist GŸnter Christmann; Smith's excellent solo CD Eye of the Storm (1992); and the duo's most recent outing, Transmutating (1993). Williams's brand-new solo disc, "Charmed, I'm Sure" (on Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace label), showcases his solo electric playing on the headless Steinberger guitar, as well as a few very Beefheartian instant compositions that overdub multiple guitars and basses, a tobacco tin, a tape measure, and a cordless drink mixer. This is an all too rare visit for Smith and Williams, who haven't appeared in Chicago together in ten years. Saturday, 10 PM and midnight, Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division; 312-409-0099 or 312-559-1212. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photos.

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