Friday, August 24, 2012

Fables of the Reconstruction: Gunn-Truscinski Duo

Steve Gunn is the best guitarist that no one has heard of. He’s not a blazing-guitar-solo great guitarist, though he’s such a master of the six-string that I suspect he could be if he wanted to. His music is mellower, richer. Much of it he performs on acoustic guitar. If I were to pin his style down, I’d say he plays in the tradition pioneered by John Fahey: highly skilled explorations of deceptively simple melody, rhythm and chord themes that reside somewhere between jazz, classical and blues, with a whole world of international sonic spirituality mixed in. When he does plug into an amp it’s not to blast out power chords and screeching licks, but to add a layer of electric resonance to his intricate tapestries of sound, vibrations along the lines of those conjured in a good raga. Gunn started out in a virtually unknown Brooklyn drone trio called GHQ, and in 2007 he began releasing music of his own, on CDRs at first and then on vinyl with a tiny label based in North Carolina called Three Lobed Recordings. These records are rare from the get go: Gunn’s 2009 LP debut, Boerum Palace, had a print run of just 823. Which might explain his relative obscurity. He’s clearly not trying to be famous.
In 2010 Gunn teamed up with drummer John Truscinski to form the Gunn-Truscinski Duo, and they’ve released two records, Sand City and Ocean Parkway, both with Three Lobed, both on limited edition vinyl—624 and 777 copies respectively. The musical relationship between Gunn and Truscinski feels similar to the way Bill Evans and Paul Motian played together, two stellar musicians playing improvisational lead simultaneously within highly structured themes. The result is something that’s at once expansive and contained, tunes that feel simple enough to relax the mind at the end of a long, hard day, but full of complicated waves of notes dense enough to yield surprises across many, many listens. And it sounds so good on vinyl. It’s the kind of music that begs for the warmth and physical texture of an LP, partly because of its simplicity, but mostly because it’s music rich with handmade qualities and textures—the scrape of Gunn’s fingers across the strings, the woodenness of his guitar, the lo-fi hum of a small amp, the tautness of the snare drum, the uneven brassy sheen of cymbals. It’s like wood grain and unpolished stone. It’s something real in a world that seems to be fading into bits and gigabytes.
Frankly I can’t understand why Gunn and Truscinski are not superstars, at least among the millions of quality-music lovers who tune in to NPR’s All Songs Considered to be turned on to new aural art, because they’re just so good. In fact, Gunn has received some NPR attention with a fascinating interview from July of last year (in which he confessed to being a Dead Head). But the surreally small pressing of their latest release suggests that either the interview drew too few new fans or they don’t care and they want to keep things small. I’m not complaining. I like being one of the few people on earth who knows about such a good thing.

No comments: