Acoustic Music Records
artist website, label website

I walked into the small record shop of Lübeck's cobble-stone Altstadt and lucked out - the sales guy I happened to chat up really knew his shit. I was asking for Django-style guitarists and had my mind set on finding unknown releases by Romane, Jimmy Rosenberg, The Rosenberg Trio, Angelo Debarre - my mainstay heroes in the field. Decking out my Hot Club of Norway stash could be done on-line at home - but finding gems by the current French masters who sometimes record on obscure Euro labels none of our domestic shops stock unless, perhaps, you were unlucky enough to having to live in a US metropolis, does require wet work on the soil of origin. Here I was, hitting up every German shop in sight, of whatever city I entered, acting tourist gumshoe hot on the heels of criminal activities in the Django and other veins - but today was Friday, Reinhardt day.

Did I know Joscho Stephaen, my man Dieter wanted to know? I did not. I was grinningly reprimanded. Said Joscho apparently was the hottest wunderkind on German soil. There were three CDs to pick from. If I could only do one - which, kind sir, should I get? Without hesitation, Dieter grabbed Django Forever, added it to my must-have stack and guaranteed instant bliss. Right he was, too. So much for folks who know their shit from shinola...

Reading right off the liner notes, we learn that "With his debut CD Swinging Strings, Joscho Stephan embarked on a meteoric career; and his following CD, Swing News, was also greeted with enthusiasm by the press and the public. And now comes Django Forever, a self-confident homage to the great role model. Seven pieces by Reinhardt and Joscho himself respectively reveal a mature young guitarist who captivates the listener with technical brilliance and supple phrasings. The youngster also dares to steal a glance at other fields. The classic "Nuages", for example, appears in a light-footed reggae rhythm, the own composition "Chica gives space for modern blues phrasings; and the soloistic ballad "Gypsy" reveals an outstanding guitarist who serenely gives expression to his musical refinement."

The core trio formation adds father Günter Stephan on rhythm guitar and Max Schaaf on upright bass while expanded numbers add the violin of Sebastian Reiman or the accordion of Heinz Hox. The first thing about Joscho that strikes the listener is the incredible cleanliness of fingering execution that's more precise than any of the sloppier/looser French modern-day precedents I'm familiar with. No matter how fast and intricate, no technical demands seem to ruffle this monster chopster the least. To boot, his tone is positively huge, leaping off the strings as though they were a half-inch off the board, connected to a far deeper body than is the case. Then there's his conceptual pen, responsible for the original tunes that make up exactly half of the present CD and will rattle the fence of any naysayers daring to suggest that all the ambitious title of Django Forever could possibly indicate was yet another mindless wannabe homage. Dead wrong they'd be.

The liner notes were right to pick up on "Chica" which nearly bursts with vivacious Blues attitude peaking out between the hard Swing lines of the podiacally-correct movements they incite in the listener's heels, never mind the shit-eating grin they'll plaster on your happy visage.

The following "Minor Blues" benefits from the same youthfully aggressive swagger, attacking key notes with such snotty vigor and explosive pop as to generate bets about what'll give out first, the string or the fingers. But the greatest surprise here is that none of the protege technical genius gets in the way, never rolls over sheer infectious music making, indicated in so many thoughtful details that the tune always has precedent over showiness, with no note superfluous, never thrown in as a callous extra. No, this supremely gifted guitarist loves all of his notes equally and only uses as many as are necessary to say the thing.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the languid "Ballade pour Django" whose down-tempo condition opens countless windows on development of tone, different vibratos, different amounts of harmonic metal. In short, sales associate Dieter called it right alone - shame on me for not knowing Joscho, something I'm herewith repenting for by introducing our perhaps equally befuddled readers who adore Jazz guitar to him with the clear instruction to go forth and sin no more! Get properly baptized - er, stephanized. You'll thank me for it, guaranteed!