The unconventional ouvre of Steffen Basho-Junghans has been discussed on this site numerous times, with each new release finding some new wrinkle or idiosyncrasy in the German guitarist’s work. Critical acclaim has never been an issue for Basho-Junghans, on Dusted or elsewhere, but he remains rather interminably untouched by greater renown. From his American debut in 2000 until 2006, Basho-Junghans released almost a dozen albums on a variety of labels, his ingenuity and prolificacy combining to create a formidable discography that raised the blood pressure of many acoustic guitar aficionados and went unnoticed by most others. More recent years have been quieter for Basho-Junghans; IS is his first release since 2006 (and his first on vinyl), but this new document shows the guitarist to have relented not one iota in his steel-strung trailblazing.
Cultivating what might be to other players merely incidental or accidental sounds, Basho-Junghans is well-versed in the intricacies of the acoustic guitar’s capabilities. His lyricism, while potent, is often served as a side dish to the more formal explorations of his playing, and IS maintains this tendency. The music, rendered sumptuously on 200-gram vinyl, is heavily indebted to Basho-Junghans’ unorthodox techniques, with even the most conventionally melodic material full of contortionist fret fingering, unexpected interjections, and subtle variations on familiar string manipulations. “When the Plains are Singing” and “...and Like the Wind We Go” bookend the LP with six-string slide work, queasily warping melodies and concentrating on the effects of the cylinder’s rapid back-and-forth movement on the strings. The former contains some of the album’s most straightforwardly evocative material, a spare Western soundtrack repeatedly bent askew.
A constant of IS, from the spindly, multi-limed melody of “Waiting for the Clouds” to the minimalist 12-string strumming of “Changes” is Basho-Junghans’ care in composition and execution. From the simplest two-note alterations to the most complicated strings of notes, strung together like the stars in a constellation, Basho-Junghans isn’t one to go for the flashiest moves or the easiest emotional punch. Instead, he works with a purpose and economy that can sometimes obscure his considerable chops as a writer and as a player. The meditative reverie that IS can inspire makes it easy to overlook the technical complexity Basho-Junghans pulls off throughout the album.
By Adam Strohm Dusted
This is the very first vinyl release by prolific German guitarist Steffen Basho-Junghans. It's quite long for a vinyl LP (nearly an hour) and also quite heavy (200 grams). It contains 6 pieces recorded live to DAT between 2000 and 2006.
Both pieces on side A and the first piece on side B all pass the ten minute mark, and side A opens with an 18 minute epic entitled "When The Plains Are Singing", a rambling slide-guitar desery blues odyssey. My favorite piece on the disc, however, is the second one, a hypnotic number called "Changes", which actually doesn't change that much during its ten minutes. The majority of the piece consists of quick, steady strumming on a single chord on a 12-string, but with very subtle changes. Not being a guitar player myself I can't accurately describe what he's doing, but it's truly stunning. Basically imagine any repetitive droney psych or Krautrock band jamming on a single chord to eternity, then imagine the same thing on a single 12-string acoustic guitar, and you have this work of beauty.
Side B opens with another excellent, hypnotic 10 minute 12-string piece, entitled "Azure No 8". This one is similarly minimalist, and has a staccato sound very reminiscent of some of Steve Reich's phasing works. Actually, in some bizarre way, it almost even sounds like an acoustic translation of some dubby minimal techno.
If the whole record were like these two pieces I'd have to give it a higher rating, but the rest are more bluesy and I'm not quite as into them. "Leaving Eden" is another 12-string piece, though, and has some lovely textures to it. I'm not crazy about everything Basho-Junghans does, but at his best, he's on fire.
Paul Simpson foxy digitalis
German acoustic guitatist Steffen Basho-Junghans has always been upfront about his influences. He’s recorded pastoral reveries that find common cause in the work of Leo Kotte, Ralph Towner and Egberto Gismonti, as well as his namesake Robbie Basho. But he’s also followed a line of experimental inquiry that owes nothing to any other guitarist. While boundary pushers from Jimi Hendrix to Brij Bhushan Kabra have extended either technique or technology, Basho-Junghans’s innovations are rooted in restriction. In the early 1990s he stopped playing for nearly a year, while healing after surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. Some years later, a chance encounter with an untuned 12-String launched an investigation of the guitar’s essential voice separate from any acquired technique. Drawing on memories of his slow recovery, Basho-Junghans would improvise on just one string or fashion a piece from varied attacks on a single chord, finding in reduced resources a paradoxically huge and complex sound. ‘IS’ is Basho-Junghans’s first album in three years, although a trickle of contributions to compilations and occasional live dates have kept him from completely dropping out of sight. It is also his first vinyl release, and his most successful reconciliation of the opposing poles of his work. He articulates the extremes on “Leaving Eden”, an effervescently lyrical gambol, and “Changes”, where he wrings ten minutes of richly detailed flux obtained by adding, dropping and accenting one note or another within an incessantly repeated chord. He also traverses from one to the other on the lengthy “When The Plains Are Singing”. Initially the ascending slide figures seem to rise out of the same haunted ground that Blind Willie Johnson once trod, but in short order the notes bend into some alien tuning. They shimmer like heart lightning, burn away in near silent scrapes, then spiral off in vertiginous forays before winding back to a hymn-like theme. The effect Is deeply moving, the music sui generis. Bill Meyer The Wire
German steel-string fondler Steffen Basho-Junghans is new to these ears but now I'm at least ever-so-slightly more educated about his particular ouvre I can start shouting about this 200gm vinyl & download set on Architects of Harmonic Rooms. He specialises in well cerebral Takoma style meanderings that sound too trancendental to actually find words to describe. I feel like I've attempted to write about this kind of thing too many times, and when you're faced with a quality proposition like Mr. Basho-Junghans, you feel like an abject failure as there is not much criticism you could level at this guy who initially learned his art on the tougher, colder side of the Berlin Wall. There's some really blinding passages on this record, some tripped out bits, some introspective road-movie style segments but overall a lucidity & knowing.... This could go anywhere and you get the feeling it probably will. This certainly ain't some well-worn pastiche, this Is the real deal y' hear me? Norman Records
Steffen Basho-Junghans is an avant/folk guitarist from Germany who combines a lyrical approach to steel guitar with an experimental use of various technical ‘binds’. He adopted the name Basho as a talismanic tribute to two figures central to his thought; the haiku master Matsuo Basho and the devotional guitarist Robbie Basho. Is presents a series of live guitar performances recorded straight to DAT between 2000-2006, switching between 6 and 12-string acoustics as well as some slide. Is perfectly balances both of Basho-Junghans’ styles, bridging his more experimental work and his more traditionally sourced material, with spare instrumentals that echo Blind Willie Johnson while projecting that vision forward into more fractured and aggressively nuanced environs. But he’s just as capable of sweeping you away on tumbling arpeggios and lush, melodic inventions as he is at rerouting the post-Takoma stream, so if you’re looking for a significantly new take on contemporary guitar soli, this is the place to be. The closing track, “...and like Wind we go” is dedicated to the memory of Jack Rose. Edition of 500 copies on 200g vinyl with a free download coupon. Volcanic Tongue
This might be a career best from German Takoma-ite Steffen Basho-Junghans. This new album plays like a showreel of the guitarist's talent: 'When The Plains Are Singing' is an exemplary piece of lapsteel playing that absolutely sings, eschewing the more earthy blues figures you might associate with the style in favour of something with an almost weightless, spiritual quality. Similarly, 'Changes' arrives in a flurry of strings and stargazing, strummed drones, and 'Leaving Eden' is a thing of near sublime loveliness. It's largely unrelated from the American bluegrass stem that tends to be at the source of guitar records of this ilk, instead favouring a more modern, occasionally minimalist form. In any case its fluid, modal qualities fit in beautifully alongside the other solos here. Highly recommended. Boomkat