John Butcher Workshop
LaDonna Smith and Davey Williams
Henry Kuntz, Bay Area New Music Discussion, April 30, 2004
Though it drew on any number of philosophical influences, not all musical (nor American for that matter) — things like surrealism, dada, and “automatic writing” — the most “genuine” (to me), uniquely American approach to free improvisation came from Alabama. That would be from the folks associated with “Transmuseq”, the most well known of whom are guitarist Davey Williams and violinist La Donna Smith. I’ve mentioned their playing and music here before, but most of their early releases (on LP) are not easy to find. One excellent CD, WHITE EARTH STREAK (from LP from early 1980s), featuring them in the company of Torsten Muller and Gunter Christman, has been recently issued on Atavistic.
Aside from the fact that their freely improvised music appeared more or less full-blown on its own in the southern US, i.e. without particular influence from European centers or even from free jazz (from free jazz, I think, more a philosophical than directly musical influence), what seems to me to make their music uniquely “American” (and a peculiarly “southern” expression of same) is its sense of individualism (and total respect for the uniqueness of and contributions of each individual, regardless of musical “training” or “skill”) and an unhurriedness about it, even when moving fast, which reflects the relatively rural surroundings which nurtured it.
I recommend any of the following:
- Direct Waves Trans Duo – LaDonna Smith & Davey Williams
- Velocities – Andrea Centazzo-percussion with LaDonna Smith & Davey Williams
- Jewels – Anne LeBaron-harp, with Davey Williams & LaDonna Smith
- TRANS II, Folk Music (to be repressed) LaDonna Smith & Davey Williams with Theodore Bowen, bass
- Transmutating (CD) Duo improvisations by Davey Williams and LaDonna Smith