The avant-garde describes the foremost part of an army advancing into battle. Davey Williams and Jill Burton are leading a charge of the musical avant-garde into South Florida this weekend and they are flying the flag of pure American improvisation.
Davey Williams is one of the foremost guitarists in the American avant-garde scene and resides in Birmingham, Ala. Williams first toured with blues singer and guitarist Johnny Shines, who himself had traveled with the legendary soul-seller Robert Johnson. Williams cut his teeth in the Jukehouse scene, playing gigs in rough and tumble bars, barns, and speakeasies throughout the South.
While playing with a Memphis rhythm & blues revue, Williams became interested in surrealism as a philosophy. He connected with the surrealist theory that automatism represents a higher form of behavior expressing the creative artistic force of the unconscious. Automatism fed Williams’ approach to improvisational music by showing that music could be assembled outside of the conscious controls or desires of any one given person.
We see examples of automatism in the visual art of Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning. This weekend, we can hear it from Williams’ guitar and the voice of Jill Burton.
Burton is a renowned vocalist who just finished a tour of California. Like many a military brat, Burton continued a nomadic lifestyle, first meeting Williams in San Francisco in the late 1970s, immersing herself in the 1980s improvisational and experimental scene in New York City, and even teaching music and voice for dancers at the New World School of the Arts here in Miami.
Years spent studying energy has propelled Burton’s improvisational technique. As she explains, free improvisation requires her to tap into an altered brain state. There is a change in her energy, in her frequencies and vibrations. “It is very much about being present in the moment for me,” she says. As local jazz expert Steve Malagodi (who collaborated in helping bring them here to town) describes it, “at a performance, [Burton] is able to really focus the energy, the kind of vibrations that are going around in the room and give a powerful, focused expression of what she is feeling in the room. It is very environmental. It is very shamanistic.”
“Beautiful Shells” is the first Miami collaboration between these performers, presented by the isaw + subtropics organization.
Friday night’s performance is at 9:00 p.m., at Inkub8, 2021 NW 1st Pl., Miami; www.inkub8.org. Saturday night’s performance, also at 9:00 p.m., will take place at Audiotheque, 924 Lincoln Road, Studio 201, Miami Beach; tickets are $8 online, $10 at the door; subtropics.org.
This preview appears in the Aug. 17 Miami Sun Post.