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Ruby Green explores possibilities with improvisational concert

Ruby Green Gallery, 2006
LaDonna Smith, Susan Alcorn and Misha Feigin

Jonathan Marx, Staff Writer, The Tennessean, December 17, 2006

Ruby Green has developed a deserved reputation as one of the city’s most adventurous art galleries, showing outspoken and accomplished contemporary work in a diverse array of media. What many local arts patrons don’t know is that it’s also one of Nashville’s most adventurous music venues.

Through the tireless efforts of local promoter Chris Davis, Ruby Green has welcomed a steady stream of jazz and avant-garde performers. On Thursday, it hosts a promising double bill featuring string improviser LaDonna Smith and steel guitarist Susan Alcorn.

In Nashville, music fans usually associate the steel guitar with the yearning twang of classic country music, but Alcorn locates within the instrument a meditative, even spiritual dimension. Though she moves among the world’s elite improvisational musicians, her music doesn’t shriek or skronk; it hovers and flows, practically caressing the listener, even in moments of deep mournfulness.

Based in Houston, Alcorn also knows her country music, having spent time in the band of Brian Black, brother of Clint. On her latest CD, Curandera, she covers Tammy Wynette’s ”You and Me,” but her range is broad enough to include versions of Curtis Mayfield’s ”People Get Ready” and a work by composer Olivier Messiaen.

When Alcorn comes to town this week, she’ll collaborate with Nashville art critic David Maddox, who also happens to be a skilled improviser on the saxophone.

Sharing the bill is Birmingham-based musician LaDonna Smith, who will team up for this performance with Russian-born guitarist Misha Feigin. Smith has long been a champion of improvised music in the Southeast, having been a member of the Tuscaloosa collective Raudelunas in the 1970s. (Middle Tennessean Craig Nutt, now much better known as a craft artist, was a member of the same group.)

Where Alcorn’s music has a soothing quality, Smith’s can be spontaneous and excitable, but she always remains attuned to the distinct character of her chosen instrument, most often the violin or the viola. What the two musicians share is the understanding that music serves as a vehicle for heightening the senses, for allowing performer and listener alike to experience each moment as unique and fully alive with possibilities.