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Rivers and Bridges

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Album Review

One looks in vain for any sort of obvious development in the music of German guitarist Steffen Basho-Junghans. As a mature artist who had been playing and studying the six- and 12-string acoustic guitar for over 20 years before he ever stepped inside a recording studio (due, in large part, to having grown up in East Germany), Basho-Junghans was seemingly already at a point where his fingers could execute pretty much anything that his mind and spirit could conceive. Having adopted guitarist Robbie Basho's name after hearing his music on record, Basho-Junghans owes a large debt to the entire Takoma record guitar school (John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Peter Lang, Basho), but he has gradually assimilated their music into a broader personal vision. Fortunately, a number of the CDs that Basho-Junghans has self-produced and released since 1995 have been licensed and distributed in the U.S. by several small but discerning U.S. record labels. This music ranges from lyrical, impressionistic fingerpicking and rich, rhythmic chordal strumming to fairly radical experimentation — such as an exploration of the timbral possibilities of an untuned 12-string guitar to locate its "soul," or the self-imposed discipline of playing an entire piece using only one finger of his fretting hand. No mere technician, Basho-Junghans communicates a kind of austere Zen clarity in his more radical pieces, and pushes the guitar in directions that probably wouldn't even have occurred to the earlier Basho. Rivers and Bridges, however, like the slightly earlier Song of the Earth, is much more reminiscent of a vintage Robbie Basho recording. Robbie Basho himself was a kind of neo-primitive visionary, who broke new ground with a blend of folk-blues, bluegrass, flamenco, and raga modalities. (Another guitarist, Sandy Bull, now almost forgotten, was doing much the same thing in the mid-'60s with his "Blend I" and "Blend II" pieces.) Basho-Junghans is clearly sustaining this eclectic tradition on Rivers and Bridges. The long opening piece, "The River Suite," has somewhat the same vibe as Basho's earlier "Lost Lagoon Suite — Vancouver, Canada." At close to 22 minutes, it meanders, drifts, and sometimes turns back on itself, but always has an underlying dynamic, much like a river. On pieces such as this one, no one melody or riff is sustained for any length of time, and the music is always subtly evolving and mutating. The other long piece, "The Takoma Bridge Incident," pays obvious tribute to the Takoma label, but here Basho-Junghans exchanges his six-string for a 12-string guitar, which provides an extra measure of depth and gravity. Basho-Junghans' technique is, as always, impeccable. His picking is always clean and articulate, and on the 12-string guitar, especially, he can sound like a duo or even trio, although he always plays in real time with no overdubbing. The last three pieces on the CD are shorter and more defined; they tend to start with a single melody or motif and then develop and extend it. "Rainbow Dancing" has a sunny, old-time country feel and a vaguely traditional melody; "Autumn II" is in a minor key and has a more mournful Appalachian quality; its chord structure carries a hint of the traditional folk tune "Wayfaring Stranger." This CD is for all lovers of the acoustic guitar and its expressive possibilities.


Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Experimental musician and visual artist Steffen Basho-Junghans is best known -- at least as far as music is concerned -- for his unusual guitar technique. His playing, which incorporates a wide variety of extended techniques and nods to North Indian raga and American folk music, is close in spirit to fellow guitarist John Fahey. Basho-Junghans was born in Saxony, Germany, in 1953. In 1978, he co-founded the German folk group Wacholder. Soon after, he began presenting concerts of solo steel-string...
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Rivers and Bridges, Steffen Basho-Junghans
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