OHMphrey, the brainchild of three members of the Chicago-based jam-band Umphrey’s McGee along with two members of OHM, unleashes their improv-heavy self-titled debut.
Chris Poland - guitars
Robertino Pagliari - bass
Jake Cinninger - guitars
Joel Cummins - keyboards
Kris Myers - drums
OHMPHREY: SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION
Musical Styles Set Ablaze on Supergroup’s Explosive Debut
What happens when five great musicians locked themselves in a studio for two days, fueled by nothing but pizza and their shared musical vision?
If you’re the super jam band OHMphrey, the result is an electrifying fusion debut flush with so much creative currency that its vibrant music buzzes with musical surprises, intense improvisation and even instrumental virtuosity.
OHMphrey, the brainchild of three members of the Chicago-based jam-band Umphrey’s McGee (keyboardist Joel Cummins, guitarist Jake Cinninger and drummer Kris Myers) and OHM guitarist Chris Poland, a legendary player who’s perhaps best known for work with headbanging pioneers Megadeth, and bassist Robertino Pagliari (a.k.a. “Pag”), unleashes their improv-heavy self-titled debut – a record that assimilates not only disparate musical genres but the individual playing styles of everyone involved.
“We’re all music dogs,” says Cummins. “To be in the studio with Chris and Pag and create this kind of music was really exciting and a great challenge for all of us.”
“It was so spontaneous,” says Cinninger. “We went all out, wearing our hearts on our sleeves.”
Gathering so much talent under one band banner, much less in one room, is historic. Then again, so often supergroups fail miserably and fall pitifully short of their potential. Fortunately for OHMphrey (and the rest of us), this project cuts against the grain in so many ways, not the least of which is by eschewing the pitfalls of modern production techniques in favor of a straight-ahead live recording setting.
“We wanted to make a good old fashioned fusion statement,” says Cinninger, who cites John McLaughlin and Al DiMeola as influences on his guitar style. “It was all about just getting the right vibe in the room and hitting the record button.”
Having jammed on stage at Martyrs’ Restaurant and Pub in Umphrey’s McGee’s hometown of Chicago, the OHMphrey outfit formed a kind of mutual admiration society amongst themselves. When the opportunity arose to record in a band setting, the five titans needed little convincing to descend upon Poland’s downtown L.A. studio to rekindle the musical hellraising they’d stirred up months earlier.
“If someone was to tell me ten years ago that I would be recording with Chris Poland, I wouldn’t have believed him,” says Cinninger. “Chris is one of the most fluid players in the world. He’s like Jan Hammer on the guitar. I was so psyched about playing with him. We really played well off of one another.”
“Jake, Joel and Kris are musical monsters,” offers Poland in the spirit of the project. “They have no musical boundaries. They are fearless!”
Having plugged into a wealth sonic textures and musical influences, the OHMphrey crew displays a high degree of melodic interplay that recalls the excitement of Return to Forever, the Super Session with Mike Bloomfield, Stephen Still and Al Kooper, Allan Holdsworth’s mind-bending solo material, Joe Satriani’s Surfing With the Alien, and Miles Davis’ fusion explorations (circa A Tribute to Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew).
That isn’t to say that OHMphrey’s music is merely empty homage to classic heroes. Far from it. OHMphrey dips into the deep well of jazz-rock virtuosity, but it also ignites its own sphere of firebrand (and sometimes simmering) fusion, circumventing repetition and mimicry. Dig such multidimensional tracks as the driving “Denny’s By the Jail,” the heavy, feel-good vibe of “Ice Cream” (which wouldn’t have been out of place on a mid 1970s Tony Williams Lifetime record), the Police-meet-Tribal Tech “’Shrooms ‘n’ Cheese,” the funky Jeff Beck-esque “What’s the Word, Thunderbird”, and “Lake Shore Drive”, which boasts repetitive rhythms as constant as the churning waters of Lake Michigan.
Blowing through a set of explosive jazz-rock fusion was just the kind of musical liberation that Cummins, Cinninger and Myers were in desperate need of: they’d spent the last three years writing, recording, perfecting and producing Umphrey’s McGee’s recently released album, Mantis (SCI Fidelity Records).
“The OHMphrey record is the polar opposite of Mantis,” says Cinninger. “OHMphrey was a change of pace from what we were experiencing in the studio. It was more of a warts-and-all, present-tense way of collaborating.”
Every note played, every beat pounded out, was inspired by the creative goings-on during the two-day whirlwind jam fest. OHMphrey spun a creative cocoon that insulated them from the outside world, and this intense focus inspired some burning, impromptu composition and even the titles of the tracks.
“There are zero overdubs on this record,” says Cinninger. “It was as if we literally had walked into Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey and laid down the sessions, as is. That’s the way records used to be made.”
Complementing and rooting the stratospheric musical moments heard on this record is the rubbery and often tricky rhythmic approach of the Myers-Pagliari/drum-bass tandem.
“Kris [Myers] is a really challenging drummer to play with,” says Cummins. “He uses a lot of odd time signatures and rhythmic illusion. When he and Pag locked in to the pulse of a song, it really opened Chris and Jake up so that they could play some amazing stuff. The rhythm section’s a big factor in why the record came out the way it did.”
These extended instrumental jams are exciting and cohesive statements, not endless and mindless noodling. Despite differences in background and musical styles, the band seamlessly weaves together elements of metal, jazz, blues and prog rock.
This familiarity is evident in the fluidity of the music. It’s the mark of a good group—indeed, a supergroup -- that material is developed in the spirit of cooperation not competition.
“For me, the sessions were about playing less notes, almost having a David Gilmour-like vibe within a fusion context, while staying out of the way of everyone else,” says Cinninger. “In this atmosphere we could rebound off of each other’s ideas, like we were on the basketball court tossing the ball around.”
“What was so special about this project was that we were able to assimilate everyone’s musical personality while allowing each member to retain his individual musical voices,” Poland says. “We all had similar instincts. That’s why it worked so well.”
“The best part was when Chris took his guitar, put it behind his head and Jake played solos on it … just kidding,” says Cummins. “That didn’t happen. But that sentiment pretty much sums up the level of comfort we all had with one another.”
Cinninger sums up: “We didn’t really go into this project knowing that we could actually do it. The idea was to jam and have fun. After a while we realized, ‘Hey, we really had something going here.’ It was cool just how intentional this whole project was.”