There seems a time in every avante-garde musician's life when she/he is forced to make a hard choice: Do I give up my primary instrument or not? For myself, the realization that the guitar was incapable of attaining the purity of sound I lusted after, coupled with the potential of untapped technologies, was simultaneously liberating and traumatic. I assume Carbon Records' Joe Tunis, AKA Joe+N, had to face a similar moment in his life, but luckily chose to stick by his axe. Unlike my younger self, Tunis seems to have no trouble attaining that purity in his guitar work. As a seasoned improviser, Tunis rarely ever sounds unsure or unclear in his intention, and the conciseness of his timbres further help affect this sense of "purity" surrounding his work.
On his latest release, "oneyear", the 'purity' which Tunis addresses is of a slightly different nature. Where most guitar players will be content to copy-cat the techniques of previous masters by under-amplifying and barely playing, or hiding their short-comings in a wash of effects processors and subsequent over-playing, Tunis distills the electric guitar's sound palate down to its three most dominant aspects - chords, rhythm, melody - and restricts himself to operating strictly within these confines. The final result is less of an exploration, and more of a love letter to the guitar.
While the tracks on this disc may be presented as four isolated moments in time, through textural and tonal consistencies, they weave an epic narrative of the passionate artist sussing out the perfect combination of melody, rhthym, chord, and even (his own) voice - the penultimate presentation of the instrument. The real stand-out track on "oneyear" would have to be the closer "2007_07_20", which draws together the loose meanderings of the previous three tracks with a highly composed sounding piece of music, accentuaing the delicacy of Tunis's touch.? There is little in the way of human meddling present on the track, allowing the sound of the guitar to breathe in and out naturally. Tunis's playing, dominant in the previous tracks, recedes to the background, weaving in and out like a guest player, leaving the instrument to steal the show.
That is not to say that "oneyear" is not without it's share of missteps. Of the four tracks, the first and third tracks - "2006_07_20" and "2007_04_10" respectively - are the weakest, while the second track, "2006_11_25," suffers similarly, but to a much lesser extent. Now, when I say "misstep" I am referring to a handful of unnecessary indulgences & embellishments which pop up occasionally but infrequently enough to easily ignore. One can hardly blame Tunis for these indulgent moments. Loosing oneself in the whirling cloud of sound, or even the visceral mechanics of playing, can hardly be considered a mistake, and the rapturous passion with which Tunis clearly interacts with the material excites me as both a musician and a listener. In fact, if it were not for the impressive seamlessness of? "2007_07_20", these inconsistencies would barely stand out. That being said, the near perfection of this closer imbues the previous three tracks with new meaning and substance as parts of a working process.
The minute subtlety that defines "2007_07_20" is typical of what I've come to expect from previous Joe+N releases.? There's no question that, while this may not be something "new", it is certainly something soberingly unfamiliar to listeners with expectations. Rarely ever do seasoned musicians lay themselves so naked before us listeners.? Avante-garde musicians have, historically, been notoriously cryptic in many of their methods and techniques. Tunis does the exact opposite here, laying bare the bones of his instrument, while showing us his own working process. Openning himself up so frankly ensure that, while "oneyear" may not be a mind-blowing piece of radically new music, it certainly is one of the most refreshing personal portraits of a musician I have heard in a very very long time. 8/10 -- Tonio Hubilla (6 August, 2008)