LaDonna Smith | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Perhaps best known for her striking performances with guitarist Davey Williams and for coediting the obsessive improvised-music journal The Improvisor, LaDonna Smith has the rare ability to make free improvisation and extended technique corporeal as well as cerebral. Smith's solo performances--primarily on the viola, with occasional forays on the violin--are wild and woolly excursions into heretofore unmapped territories of sound. Her textures range from lithe snags of gentle lyricism and caustic ragalike drones to screechy stops, violent swooshes, and percussive thwacks. Things get even more interesting when she adds her faux-operatic vocals, which complement, counter, and contradict her garrulous string manipulations. Yet what really sets Smith apart is her overarching sense of humor; she's acutely aware of the line between adventure and self-indulgence, and while her work is as serious and sophisticated as that of any current free-improvisers, she never exudes the smugness that many of them do. She's more like a soothing guide leading the way into a dark cave full of treasure. Also on the bill for the second evening of the Women of the New Jazz Festival is the exciting trio that matches the astonishing pianist Marilyn Crispell with tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson and percussionist Hamid Drake, as well as French hornist/pianist Ahnee Sharon Freeman's trio. Friday, 8:30 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334.

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