Everything I know about jazz I've learned from watching Treme on HBO. That fact not withstanding, I spent the evening of Wednesday December 18th, 2013 at the Brothers Drake Meadery and Bar absorbing the Ben Johnson Quartet. This experience seemed to me to be everything modern jazz should be, despite the fact I know nothing about modern jazz. Regardless of how you define it, Mr. Johnson and company played jazz for the modern age. Aaron Quinn on guitar, Dan Shaw on keys, and Ryan Jewell on drums accompanied the aforementioned Johnson on bass in a set consisting of jazz tributes (it does not feel proper to call them covers) of well known nineties songs. It's as accessible as it is impressive, a perfect fit for jazz Wednesdays at the Brothers Drake. Although, while sipping some damn good apple pie mead, I did find myself wishing I was in some dive bar filled with cigarette smoke where the beer is served warm and in cans. But, barring that momentary lapse of reason, the classiness of the venue held it's sway from front to back and beginning to end. The first set of the inaugural performance involved noticeable nerves, yet still sounded smooth. The feel of the room was still transitioning toward the newly introduced presence of live music. But the true potential of the Ben Johnson Quartet was blasted clean across both their second and closing sets. The opening night nerves melted from the now smiling faces of the musicians. The ruckus and inviting tunes conquered the room as the crowd organically grew in both numbers and appreciation. The second set included what was described to me as a bossa nova send up to No Doubt's, "Don't Speak" that quite simply felt good. In a surprise addition to the nineties theme was Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball," which fully excited the females sitting next to me. "Oh my god, it's Wrecking Ball!" The hook collapsed their, and all other, conversation in the room into a mound of joyous laughter. I never thought I'd be listening to that song and thinking, "this is fucking amazing!" but I did. The third set had pulled the group standing in front of me up to sit on the floor at center stage. which greatly improved my view, to say nothing of it's testament to the level of intrigue being put on display by the patrons. Johnson finally introduced a song, an original entitled, "Clamhammer" that expounded upon the theme of the evening and showed the true potential of this fearsome foursome. It must be noted that it did take Johnson until midway through the third set to speak into the microphone, something he was obviously not used to doing. But, as the namesake, and the leader, it is his responsibility. The renditions of Radiohead's "Kharrma Police" and "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" lacked only Thom Yorke's howl. I salivate over the thought of Thom droning out "where'd you park the car?" while introducing the songs. But hypothetical international celebrity cameos aside, the brilliance of the musicianship displayed by the quartet is indisputable. They played with the poise of veterans who were surrounded by men and women of a similar age, but in at least one way were not their peers. Mr. Johnson may need to get used to the idea of being the lead vocalist (in an instrumental band) on stage, but his backbone and his nimble fingers created lead weighted grooves all night on his upright, which masterfully drove the performance. Shaw played with precision and flare, as Jewell kept the pace crisp and creative. Quinn provided the hooks that held the evening upright, as well as a few originals of his own, and rounded out their sound. Now, doing jazz renditions of popular songs is not a wholly original idea. Jazz Against the Machine does a similar thing and is certainly worthy of youtube incursion. They are probably the reason a Rage song was not included in the set list, which was a minor personal disappointment. One fellow patron told me he loved the original tunes, but thought the cover songs were tacky. He's wrong. the originals were impressive, but the covers got the crowd hooked. There is no better way to engage a crowd than play a song they know and love. The rearrangements of Nirvana, No Doubt, Radiohead, Oasis and Miley fucking Cyrus brought the experience to what the previous gentleman's companion so eloquently referred to as, "next level shit." That phrase, I think, encompasses the evening perfectly. The quartet exuded jazz for the modern twenty something. Those of us who hear the phrase, bossa nova, and think it's something Michelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would say. It is designed for an audience not of jazz aficionados, nor snobs, but simply for the fans of great music. I find it hard to imagine a jazz snob watching that set and not being impressed, but such people tend to be insufferable jerks. But the rest of who just want to have a drink and listen to a band play got an experience that cannot be provided by anyone else in Columbus because no one else in Columbus does what the Ben Johnson Quartet did at the Brothers Drake Meadery and Bar.

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