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David Gross, "Things I Found To Be True"

A northeastern American sax player bent on packing his unique and extreme vision into an unassuming, highly personal statement, David Gross might as well be poster boy for the Sedimental label. His first for solo alto saxophone, Things I Have Found To Be True follows fellow Bostonian James Coleman's tremendous solo theremin recording Zuihitsu and Performing Tonight, a collection of baffling sax/voice duets from Gross and Liz Tonne. Gross' 15-year history of instrument discovery stops here in an indecipherable tome to childhood and personal history. Gross has made statements about dismantling completely his concept of looking for new niches within a history of jazz etc, and these ideas are completely supported from minute #1 of this disc. The artist's style is probably derivative of someone else; more appropriately it is entirely derivative of the saxophone as an inert vessel of forces, ideas at the core of any history of free music, but Things I Have Found makes clear that these matter not. By covering the disc with personal referents, including Gross' grandmother's beautiful cover painting of the artist and his brother as children, he creates a mythology that is more than simple juxtaposition of abstract sound and subjective information. The first track, "Partially Buried Woodshed," becomes obscure childhood memory, plea for the abstract expressionist credo of emotion-through-basic-gesture, and a brut simulation technique all flooding at once with Gross struggling to keep his breath within the spaces. Others have described the artist's style as "sculptural," a perfect term that hones in on the physicality of the playing and sounds played, while leaving room for projected spaces within the saxophone itself and divergent, imaginary realms created. A woodshed of breath, brass, earth, flesh, and…wood creates itself, outside of history, outside of temporal concerns, a bound diary of suspended moments, whittled down to a purity of expression without a purity of intent. The surprises come when things even remotely close to traditional (read: human) sax sounds creep through, as if by accident. "Dystonia" is a numbing human-voice-through-saxophone-bell piece whose guttural meanderings have surely been done-over countless times but enter the mythology of the record in a refreshing way here: comfort and assurance in, yes indeed, a human presence and abject terror at how the presence asserts itself. Gross' playing is more sparse on this release than any of the other documents I've heard, though these are his most complex compositions; the intimacy with which he approaches the saxophone, each screw in each latch, every fiber in the reed, every pad or valve, and all the negative space in between, is simply astounding.



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Review of the Day

Bobby Conn and the Glass Gypsies
Mousonturm Frankfurt, April 2nd, 2004
Due to a theater performance in one of the venue's other rooms the band had a late slot at 10pm, after the theater perfomance had ended. The room was well packed with about 200 people, but there was still enough room for everybody to stand comfortably. When the band walked on stage, the great outfits were the first thing to notice: bright yellow or orange pants, neon rainbow belts, matching blue or green shirts, and platform boots. (Even the drummer was wearing a pair of them, probably making it difficult to play.) The band itself is a sight to behold, with the bass player looking like Beck himself, tall guy Pearly White manning the keyboards, the drummer looking like a copy of John Bonham (complete with moustache), guitar player Sledd looking like he used to play in a hair metal band (and boy, the stuff he played sure sounded like that, too) and Monica Bou Bou—the only girl in the band—switching between keyboards, violin and recorder. The real star, however, is 5' 4" singer/guitarist Bobby Conn. Looking like a cross between Lou Reed and a smaller version of early 70s Bowie, he immediately took command of the stage and the audience, ordering everybody to move closer to the front.
The main set consisted mainly of material from the latest album The Homeland, with a couple older songs thrown in. Highlights were the album's prog rock opener "We Come In Peace," the single "Relax," with its funky rhythm and the title track, "The Homeland," which was announced as being the 'official sing-along anthem for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.' For the ballad "Home Sweet Home," Bobby descended from the stage and performed the song amidst the audience. Musically, the set was a mixture of Queen, Led Zeppelin, Iggy And The Stooges, David Bowie, and T Rex, with some funk and disco thrown in for good measure. Quite a few people critizice Bobby Conn for delivering his political messages "disguised" as 70s glam rock, but in concert this worked out fine, with Bobby commenting on the current political situation in the US and talking with the audience between songs.
When the main set ended after a short 75 minutes, it still felt complete and they could have ended it right there. After much cheering, the band came back, performing a few older songs, with "Whores" (from the previous album The Golden Age) being the last one. After that, the band left the stage and Monica started selling merchandise, but the audience was still screaming for more. When the cheering didn't stop after five minutes, Monica left the stage and went looking for the boys to come back for some more. She must have pulled them right out of the shower, for they returned half naked, wearing sweat pants and sneakers, but they did another two fast and loud songs, which Bobby announced with the words "After these, you don't wanna hear anything else." When they finished, the band was finally released to the well deserved showers.
It was a great night with an excellent performance, and it was pretty cheap, too. (Hey, and you can't go wrong with a concert where a platform boot-equipped guitarist is doing jumping jacks on stage, right?) The remaining tour dates can be found on the Thrill Jockey web site. 
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