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Review: Ryan Jewell Quintet’s Vibration!

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by Richard Sanford on December 10, 2019

For the years Columbus was lucky enough to call him ours, drummer Ryan Jewell was our leading proponent of Emily Dickinson’s maxim “tell the truth but tell it slant.” He placed an idiosyncratic, indelible, and always swinging stamp on any context he assailed, from the insidiously catchy quirk of Terribly Empty Pockets to the righteous brainy scuzz-punk of Pink Reason to spacy evocative noise with collaborators like Mike Shiflet and C. Spencer Yeh to shepherding Psychedelic Horsehit through their richly rewarding disco period. But for many of us, including this writer, there was unique magic whenever he brought that voice to the jazz idiom.

Now that Jewell lets the world in on the secret of his beauty with high-profile collaborations with underground heroes like Ryley Walker, Matt Valentine, Chris Forsyth, and Chris Gantry, he’s given us a parting-gift, a mesmerizing recording of his Columbus-based quintet, Vibration! and it’s one of my records of the year.

High on my list of pleasures inherent in Vibration! is another appearance of the underrated – and damn sure underrecorded – rhythm section pairing Jewell’s drums with John Allen’s upright bass (also a Columbus expat, leaving us richer for knowing him). Their uncanny telepathy stitches the record together: their winks at martial time during “Piece of Shit Snowflake,” the bold game not unlike the title of “Laser Tag.” The rest of the quintet is filled out by the cream of Columbus’ out-leaning players: Alex Burgoyne on alto sax, Abhilasha Jayanthi on guitar, and Caleb Miller on keys.

Jewell’s writing takes full advantage of players he knows so well as these tunes turn and twist while retaining the feeling of an easy-going conversation. “Howdy Friend” opens with a jaunty, crackling post-bop head before a swirling scatter of drums sets up a dark cri de coeur from Burgoyne’s alto slipping between Allen’s throbbing bass and Miller’s piano; it builds to a crescendo that leaves the listener darting between a flashing knife and a high, treacherous cliff. “Piece of Shit Snowflake” starts with Miller in shimmering Steve Reich mode and slides into a shuddering ballad highlighting Jayanthi’s melting-ice guitar as empathy and pain bleed out from behind that acerbic title.

The joyous ’60s Blue Note homage of “Cycle-Trinosophes Breakfast,” like all those classic records, gives each player enough space to breathe while focusing on the song. It lets us think we’ve been at a blowing session for an hour and gets in and out in the concentrated strike of 5:30, letting the tune echo in our heads. “Green Tea and White Wine in Plastic Cups” is a moving ballad worthy of a Joan Mitchell landscape, slow, evolving tones letting us feel the impact of each color.

There isn’t a bad track on Vibration!, as sensitive as it is imaginative and as rich as it is surprising. This is one of our finest ensembles given the prestigious recording it deserves (beautifully engineered and mixed by Keith Hanlon, one of our best recordists).

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