Gunn / Truscinski Duo – Sand City / Ocean Parkway (2016)
In October of 2012, for the first time in six years, I found myself back in the country of my birth. It was a journey I never expected to make. I’d been sent to install a sculpture at the ICA in Boston. The money was too good to turn down. My arrival was laced with a feeling of historical inversion. A century before my great-grandparents had left England, planting their roots in Boston. With the same sense of permanence, I reversed the migration in 2005. Returning to the city of my youth felt foreign. I wandered in a haze, darting between record stores that had punctuated my early years. Beyond family, I didn’t know anyone who remained. Not knowing when I’d be back again, I decided to extend the trip, taking time to see friends in NY.
I spent two weeks Brooklyn, crashing with my friend Brendon, while catching up with my nearest and dearest, and picking up a backbreaking pile of LPs. A few days before I was to return to London, doom began to gather on the horizon. There was talk of a hurricane coming our way. Sandy struck a few hours before my flight was due to take off. I was stranded. The next chance to get out was ten days away. I buckled down, helped Brendon pile sandbags outside of his subterranean recording studio – which lay on the edge of the flood zone, and rode out the storm drinking and watching the rain anxiously.
Faced with another ten days, I figured I’d worn out my welcome, and decided to give Brendon a break. After a few days with my friend Che, I settled in at my friend Koen’s for the duration. Koen and I have pretty similar temperaments. Left to our own devices we’re happiest splitting a bottle, chatting, and cycling through unexpected gems from our record collections. On my final night we were doing just that. As we began to wind down, Koen pulled out a record by his friend Steve Gunn, asking if I’d heard it. Though I’d been aware of Steve since the mid-2000’s, owned his first couple of CDRs, and continued to follow his career, I hadn’t heard this one. It was a duo recorded with the drummer John Truscinski called Sand City. Koen gave me a smile and let the needle drop.
There are rare moments when you get to hear the realization of the music in your head – the sound you’re looking for, imagine exists, and may never find. That was my first encounter with Sand City. It knocked the wind out of me. It was the record that I’d been longing to hear.
Sand City, and its follow up Ocean Parkway, are both instrumental records, a form to which I’m naturally drawn. Steve is one of the most interesting guitarists working today. I’ve listened to him grow over the years, and am continuously stunned. As much as I like his vocals, truly great things happen within his instrumental work. It’s where I feel like he really shines. Though his playing is strongly rooted in tradition, his approach and arrangements are unlike anything I’ve ever heard. On an instrument so ubiquitous, that’s no small accomplishment.
Both albums are comprised of extended psyched-out improvisational electric and acoustic jams, drawing heavily on territory sketched out by Sandy Bull and Peter Walker – both of whom occupy hallowed space in my collection. Though I wouldn’t call Gunn’s playing “Raga-Guitar”, there are clear elements which stem from Indian Classical music, as well as from Oud players like Hamza El Din, and Munir Bachir, and North African Tuareg music. It’s a perfect a distillation of my favorite sounds on the planet. Despite all the great references and sources, Gunn manages to turn everything on its head, making a music all his own. It truly is what I always wanted to hear, but never quite did. Though Gunn’s playing stands to the fore, it’s also important to acknowledge the drumming of John Truscinski. His open driving rhythms are the perfect foil for Gunn’s playing. In many ways he makes everything that is wonderful about these recordings possible.
When I woke the following morning, I was filled with a desperate need to track down both LPs. My flight was leaving in a few hours, and given that they were released in limited hand numbered editions, I imagined my chances of finding them in Europe were slim. I panicked, pulled myself together, and glanced out the window. During the night a blizzard had descended on the city. Snow was swirling and coming down in droves. My heart sank. Sure I was going to be stranded again, I pushed fear aside. The only thing that mattered was finding the records before I left. Academy on North 6th was about to open. I bundled up and pushed myself outside. The weather was awful. By the time I arrived, snow was falling off me in sheets. Luckily both LPs were in stock. I grabbed them, sprinted back to Greenpoint, hugged Koen goodbye, and called a car for a harrowing ride to JFK. After four hours on the runway I made it out.
When I got back to London, I pushed my stacks of new records to the side, letting them gather dust. Sand City and Ocean Parkway lived on my turntable – going back and forth, one after another. It went on for a month, listening to nothing else, before I decided I could give them a rest. That trip was the beginning of my reconnection with the country of my birth. Those two LPs are one of many things in my life that I have to thank Hurricane Sandy for. Without it, I might never have found them. They are stunningly beautiful. Despite the countless hours I have spent with them, they still make my heart beat faster every time I drop them down. Three Lobed is bringing them back as a double LP. It’s out on April 1st. I can’t recommend picking it up enough. You can get it from them directly, from Experimedia, or from you favorite local record shop. Have a listen bellow.