Jonathan Townes, obviously, is not a household name. Neither are the plethora of other "six-stringers with web sites" out there competing for your dollars, and more importantly, your ears. Yes, Jonathan has his own site (www.giglaeoplexis.com) as well as what is becoming an obligatory spot for "unsigned" (whatever that means, nowadays) artists over there at MP3.COM (http://www.mp3.com). Jonathan quite effectively separates himself from the rest of the MP3.COM poseurs (ok, maybe that's a bit too sweeping of a generalization, but you try weeding your way through some of the "unsigned" instrumentalists on that site) on a number of fronts. First and foremost of course must be the music and the playing; more on that later.
What's intriguing about Jonathan, and certainly makes for a more interesting piece of writing, anyway, is that if you do wind up checking him out through his own web site, what will immediately hit you is that he has a tangible online image, and even something of an online "career". Jonathan's been up and running in electron-land for about a year now, and has 3 releases under his own name (he's on another, called "Glossolalia" by the group Sun's Anvil, which was, quite positively, reviewed in the Nov. 99 issue of AllAboutJazz [http://www.allaboutjazz.com]), one of which is out of print (I am the proud owner of an actual hard copy of "Open" by Jonathan's band Muchehatmintyfresh. Don't spell check it, but I don't think you can get it anymore.) His web site itself catches the wandering the eye, yet the graphics and information presented therein is somehow pleasingly minimalistic. Jonathan thoroughly succeeds at projecting an online air of mystery and ephemeralness relative to himself and his music. You get the feeling that you'd better download those electrons now or forever lose them.
Rather than wait for the critics to play catch-up, Jonathan has even developed intriguing and quite fitting terminology for his music, describing it as "Liquid Stream of Electric Consciousness." Do yourself a favor and take a listen to the downloadable cuts.. you'll hear why. This music crosses over from avant-garde to free to fusion to funk/groove and back in the course of a single tune. Jon's site, in fact, contains a more fitting description of the music than a reviewer could be challenged to formulate, to wit:
"It's not really jazz, and it's not really anything else. It sounds like other things, but no word or phrase exists to fit the music.... Until now: Liquid Stream of Electric Consciousness. It probably fits a great deal of other music out there. The music is liquid. It flows. It fits to the vibe of the moment. It's not confined to a single space, time, or temperament. The music is electric. More than electric instruments. The music has a vibrant pulse. If done right, it will move you. The music continually moves from one moment to the next..." phew...
I must admit that I was originally taken aback by the paradigm shift in Townes' compositional direction on the new works as compared to the "Glossolalia" release, which features 7 (of 11) tunes composed by Jonathan, one of which, called Penterra, is a modern-day "Real Book-type" jazz ballad. Most parts of the current batch of songs are composed on the fly, and indeed sound as if they are played with their primary goal being spontaneity. Andy Sanesi, the drummer on the most recent release, "Liquid Stream of Electric Consciousness," is a co-conspirator of John Zorn's, which gives you a clue to regarding the compositional roadmap here. Jon and the rest of his trio mates can stylistically flit from genre to genre as players and as on the spot composers.
In terms of distinguishing between his two online "records", "Mars" and "Liquid Stream of Electric Consciousness," the former is more acoustic and the latter more electric. On "Liquid Stream," we get the acid funk rock of Hot Pants giving way to Path's (available on request from Giglaeoplexis) power trio 4/4 rock workout and the "world-noise" of Daruka. We get an epic pastoral piece featuring noise that ends in a funk jam (Circle Spied the Zigurat) and a true 15 minute gem in Spiral of the Groovish, which indeed starts lightly, ending in incendiary fashion a full fifteen minutes later. On the way it features bass work from Conrad Korsch that runs the gamut from clean fretless to Bootsy Mutron, supporting rapidly shifting tones and solo lines from Townes, steeped equally in bop, fusion and rock.
On "Mars," we definitely go more acoustic and get tunes that are more composed, if you will, while still real loose. While I dislike using direct comparisons, especially of guitarists who are relative unknowns, this one brings to mind Wayne Krantz on Strat with an acoustic rhythm section.
I'll leave you with this line of thinking: Jonathan has given us a full package via the net, combining quality music with a mysterious, insightful net/media persona. All of this is available in toto to the interested and discerning listener/consumer, as far as I can tell, for a grand total of zero cost; that's free folks! We all have nothing to lose by listening and looking. What Jonathan and many other artists of his ilk (I'm not talking of his abilities here, I'm speaking about musicians who give away their music for free) has to gain by offering this all up is not readily apparent, other than exposure for some future offering, whether it be in the form of music or live appearances. In the meantime, in the words of QVC, "You'd do well to get in on Jonathan's special offer."
Featuring: Jonathan Townes-guitar with Conrad Korsch- bass, Andy Senesi-drums.
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