Everyone who is familiar with the music of Umphrey's McGee knows that they constantly attempt to push the limits of modern rock and jazz and explore several types of sounds, rhythms, and tones. This is largely due to eclectic styles of guitarist Jake Cinninger and keyboardist Joel Cummins. Both musicians subscribe to the philosophy of trying to find new ways to express music by often being atonal and arrhythmic, yet somehow keeping the hungry ear longing for more. Jake and Joel have both recently written and recorded a variety of instrumental songs for each of their solo projects. Jake’s Jake Cinninger and Joel’s Common Sense consist of a varied range of musical styles.
Jake Cinninger | Jake Cinninger
Jake Cinninger, former lead guitarist of a jazz trio out of South Bend, IN called Ali Baba’s Tahini, later joined cross-town cohorts Umphrey's McGee because they were attracted to his incredible range of talent and composition on all instruments. Jake’s solo album, released on Monkey Fuzz Records in 2001, consists of 12 tracks in which Jake plays nearly every instrument on the album and showcases his incredible range of styles. Jake will claim to be a drummer from the start, but it’s his V-8 speed and victorious guitar styles where he shows his diverse style. Wrap up Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen and Bela Fleck and add a dose of caffeine and something a bit more potent, and out pops Jake Cinninger.
The first track on the disc, titled “Aster Heights,” which later became an Umphrey's song titled “Roulette,” is a excellent way to open the album. This song consists of a wonderfully composed guitar and piano interludes and multiple sections with varied rhythms in which the guitar and piano take turns leading the groove. Jake seamlessly segues between slickly gorgeous and heavier patterns in the opening track. On the second track, “Jacofish,” Jake explores the realm of jazzy world music in which his fast acoustic guitar licks are reminiscent of South American indigenous sounds. Much of this album touches on world music as Jake mixes acoustic guitar harmonics as well as glorious triumphant waves of sound with percussive beats carrying the songs from start to finish. Current Umphrey’s McGee song “Blue Echo” is a wonderful example of this stunning exploration of sound layers and triumphant melodies.
Photo by Susan J. Weiand
Several of the tracks on this album, namely “Lawnmowers & Saxophones on Carberry,” “Coil,” “Salmon Salt,” and “Drizzle,” are the types of songs that would perfectly accompany a drive through the world’s most beautiful scenery. Jake’s progressively slow acoustic guitar melodies create a gorgeous and extremely introspective mood in which he attempts to take the listener to exterior worlds inside the listener’s head. “Thoughtful” is the perfect way to describe these tracks in which Jake layers his sound effects calmly to provide a backdrop for the scintillating acoustic guitar melodies.
Finally, Jake shows his expression of fast paced blend of rock and acid jazz on tracks like “Forced Relocation” and “Dolphy.” Jake does his best Eddie Van Halen guitar licks with syncopated rock beats type driving monotonic beats with heavy moving drums. If Jake’s goal was to showcase his multiple talents on all instruments, composing complex and thoughtful songs, he succeeded. Jake is a very patient musician, which is evident on his self-titled album.
Joel Cummins | Common Sense
For as long as I’ve known Joel Cummins, he’s always been a keyboardist trying to push the limits on the keyboard. From his pre-Umphreys days to his new Common Sense, Joel has always tried to find new ways to use the keyboards as both a melodic and harmonic instrument, as well as a percussive instrument. Joel’s new album let’s the listener hear what he’s come up with.
Joel commissioned Umphrey's percussionist Andy Farag, guitar and drummer Jake Cinninger, and drummer Mike Mirro to help him with the playing on some of the 12 tracks. The main theme carrying through this album is that of layering and looping sound effects, moving and driving drumbeats, and steady bass lines topped off by Joel’s exploration of the keyboard. He uses the Fender Rhodes and the Roland JP8000 for nearly all of his spacey and trance effects. Several of the tracks drive a trance-tecno groove, with a jazz fusion type of keyboard style jumping on top. The second track titled “Intellivince” is a prime example of this, identified with intervals of start-stop drum beats, and intelligent jamming in a style of Miles Davis and Chick Corea of the late 1960s. Track 11, “In Violation of Yes” touches on this style as well, and features somewhat of a conversation between the piano and Roland who decide to take a gallop through musical bars.
Current Umphrey's McGee song “The Triple Wide” as well as “The Soviet” are the most upbeat and resemble a considerate trancy groove comparable to sounds of The New Deal and Particle, whom Joel has jammed with on occasion. “The Triple Wide” is the only song on the album with a guitar, played by Jake Cinninger, and this up-tempo beat features lovely syncopated patterns from the guitar and Rhodes that seem to melt together gorgeously in a “raise your hands” manner. One of the most impressive songs, “Summer in Sheboygan” has a very bouncy groove and keeps the listener smiling through the wonderful dance of the piano on top of happy summertime beats. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Joel Cummins piece if it didn’t involve atonal interludes of distortion.
Photo by Susan J. Weiand
Joel also invades the territory of neo-classical piano movements on Common Sense. Several years back, Joel released a solo album titled “Suspended in Time” which consisted primarily of solo piano pieces. Joel’s style here is that of peaceful and beautiful, arrhythmic yet incredibly fluid patterns like on “Next Medium” and “Missing Two Minus Infinity.”
Both Joel and Jake have set out to record music that allows them to explore all realms and experiment with different styles of music. Both albums are very intricate and sometimes very "out there" and both albums are heavily inspired by jazz-fusion and esoteric patterns or movements. Both albums take the listener to scary dwellings and through pristine spaces of pure beauty, as Jake and Joel are very comfortable playing and composing magnificent music.
Both CD's can be found at Umphreys.com
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