His own world of sound

David Moss combines expansive vocal prowess – spanning 4.5 octaves – acting abilities and percussion skills in a plethora of musical projects.

david moss 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
david moss 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Judging by David Moss’s rolling-stone schedule of performing, recording and teaching, there’s very little chance of his gathering any of the sticky green stuff.
Moss is in Jerusalem for a series of workshops and gigs as part of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance’s On the Edge music series. The workshops will culminate in concerts with the – no doubt by then highly enlightened and enthused – students.
The Hartford, Connecticut-born longtime resident of Berlin seems to have boundless energy. To date, he has combined his expansive vocal prowess – spanning four and a half octaves – acting abilities and percussion skills in a plethora of projects across the globe. He has contributed to more than 100 albums over the last three and a half decades, performing more than 1,000 solo shows in addition to his operatic, theatrical and ensemble work. At 61, he’s also showing absolutely indicates no signs of slowing down.
“I have been interested for a long time now in seeing how far the voice can go – what you can do with it,” Moss states in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “Also, being a percussionist. That adds to the possibilities I can see, working on my own with my voice and playing with other musicians, seeing where I can complement what they do. For example, I think I fit in well with what Steve does.”
The Steve in question is US-born Jerusalemite saxophonist-composer Stephen Horenstein, who teaches at the Jerusalem Academy and will perform with Moss. Horenstein, who first met Moss 40 years ago, when the two were young music students in the US, is also responsible for bringing the Berliner to Israel.
Moss is evidently the genuine article. It isn’t at all difficult to envisage his onstage persona, even from across a cafe table. The man appears to be constantly animated, with a sort of soft-edged but barely controlled manic energy waiting to erupt at any moment.
On his Web site – a madcap esthetic joy in itself – Moss describes himself as “singer, percussionist, composer, performer, teacher, curator, improviser, theater-maker, actor...” – the three dots presumably implying that there are any number of other artistic fields to which he could easily attach himself.
SO HOW does one get from comfy Connecticut to the abrasive cutting edge of improvisation and sonic-thespian endeavor?
“My father was a wood sculptor, and he loved the texture of wood,” explains Moss. “One thing that impressed me about art when I was a kid was that things have exterior and interior worlds, like wood. So once I started with music, the whole idea of exterior and interior was in my mind. This was the door to my understanding that music wasn’t just one thing – it has depth.”
After getting into all the regular sounds of the time – The Beatles and Doors included – Moss started moving away from pop music to the more expansive and improvisational domain of jazz drumming. “I was veering away from the start; I was a veerer away,” says Moss. “I’d hear something and I’d somehow think, ‘Now what can you do with that?’ It was always natural for me to say, ‘That’s OK, but where can go with it?’ I also did that when I got into jazz drumming.”
Moss’s artistic endeavor got an emphatic shove in the offbeat direction when, in 1964, he heard the album A Love Supreme by envelope-pushing jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. “That really freaked me out. I said, ‘That’s not music. What is that?’”
Moss was bowled over by Coltrane’s dexterity and daring, not simply dazzled by the reedman’s nimble fingerwork. “I realized that Coltrane was not only an instrumental virtuoso, which was what I’d kind of been thinking – I was looking at conceiving the idea of going away from that but still keeping the commitment and power and intensity of the music,” he says.
Still, Moss wasn’t quite sold on that direction yet. “I thought it was too weird for me. But about six months later, I kept going back to the record and I knew there was some treasure in there I had to get at. That was the turning point for me. The world of Coltrane gave me the understanding that someone could create his own world of sound.”
And there was a far more conventional source to feed off, too. “I also got into the music of Bach around that time,” Moss recalls. “It had something about it that indicated that every note told you that the next note was needed, that everything came from itself – that it had to be that way. You looked at it afterwards and you saw it had that perfect shape. So when I played the drums after that, I kept thinking about what really had to be in the sound and what I had to carve away.”
SOME YEARS later Moss carved himself away from his homeland andrelocated to Germany. It was, it seems, the perfect move. “When I gotto Berlin, it was like they’d just been waiting for me to arrive. Istarted working intensively from the word go. I found the sort ofopenness and willingness to embrace new things that I hadn’t found backin the States. Growing up in the US in the 1950s and ’60s, sound wasunknown territory – everything was a genre. I couldn’t even say I wasinterested in sound, but that’s what was leading me away from themainstream.”
Get an earful of Moss’s performance in, say, the English NationalOpera’s Lost Highway or a seemingly tongue-in-cheektake on Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, and youimmediately understand that this man is irrepressible and will stop atnothing to get his sonic message out there. That is powerfullyauthenticated when you catch as much as a snippet of any of his solospots, as he draws on a broad gamut of vocal sounds and characters,alternating between emotions and moods at the drop of a hat.
The general Jerusalem public will have an opportunity to hear and seeMoss in action tonight at 8 p.m. in room 221 of The Jerusalem Academyof Music and Dance – the culmination of three days of workshops. Healso appears on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at the Gerard Behar Center, teamingup with the Butterfly Effect ensemble of Horenstein, Jeffrey Kowalskyand Lior Navok in what is being billed as “creating dreamlike episodeswith live performance, sound and visual imaging.”