Davey Williams and John Corbett
Experimental guitarist and improviser Davey Williams and experimental renaissance man John Corbett have recently teamed up to bring the Atavistic audiences Humdinger. It’s somewhat inexplicable. It has precedent, certainly; Henry Kaiser’s influence on Williams is excessively thick at times. To implement the exact same outmoded guitar effects that Kaiser proved his mastery on Aloha and Outside Pleasure nearly 30 years ago would be an unforgivable sin if not for the competent way with which Williams manages to shove his jagged guitar whims into Corbett’s constant flux.
With over four decades of free improvisation, Corbett, the man behind the Unheard Musics series on Atavistic, is faced with the question of how to push himself out of the determined idioms of what is now an established genre. In Boston, musicians like Gregg Kelly and Bhob Rainey are beginning to develop a certain sensitivity to space and silence. In New York, the most recent developments have involved a deconstruction of genre and an emphasis on powerful and violent dynamic. In Austria, labels like Charizma and Mego are the foremost proponents of artists beginning to push the boundaries of digital instruments. There is a gigantic overlap, influences abound, etc. Chicago, Corbett’s hometown is not exactly devoid of musical innovation either, and on Humdinger, there is an interesting, and somewhat original, emphasis on humorous, yet partially conceptual improvisation. It is nice to hear the boys shredding and clacking along with turntables, synthesizers, and radios, and from the opening Exotica wax-spinning of “Playing Along” the listener is made aware that he’s not about to be listening to some college experimental music ensemble pondering the profound sound of gurgle-gurgle. The music is dictated by the evocative titles, of which “Two Great Bass Fishermen Up the Creek Without an Ostinato” is one of the standouts. “When We Jammed with El Rushbo” is the sound of Williams going to town over Corbett’s radio-swishing, so, yes, that Rush and no, it’s not just him saying “What?” over and over again. “The Untitled Ballad of the Ballad that Wouldn’t Start” holds a delightfully impaired countrified ballad, once again, music completely dictated by the title.
Rather than opting for delusional notions of expression through “freedom,” Corbett continues his experiments with culture-clashing collage and the humor and discomfort that it produces and Williams uses his guitar to the best of his ability to complement that. Humdinger is not an entirely effective combination, however. The intent of the music doesn’t seem to prevent the boredom inherent in rehashing a singular joke/idea for eight minutes. However, the occasional over-extended track hardly begins to compete with the terrible third-generation free improvisation groups that rehash a singular idea from 40 years ago, for hours at a time.