OHMphrey – Posthaste (2012)

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photos courtesy of Magna Carta Records

Three years ago, members of both the Midwestern jam band Umphrey’s McGee and the California based metal fusion band OHM formed a union inspired by some club jams that merited making a record full of original material conjured up by the band. OHMphrey (2009), as both band and album is called, was, to say so directly, one hell of a first impression, and this creative, daring slab of improvisational, instrumental rock merited a spot on the Best of 2009 fusion list.

This could have been a one time only event, given that the participants are busy with other bands, but we now know, with great gladness, that they weren’t one-and-done. Because next week, the follow up record Posthaste is out, and it’s more of the same goodness you heard from their first album. The lineup remains intact, with Chris Poland (guitar) and Robertino “Pag” Pagliari (bass) coming from OHM and Jake Cinninger (guitar), Joel Cummins(keys) and Kris Meyers (drums) on loan from Umphrey’s McGee.

As before, the core of the band are its two guitarists, Chris Poland and Jake Cinninger, and their perfectly complementing styles. Cinninger, the cunning, funky stylist, sharing the limelight with Poland, the undiluted shredder and sound slayer. Both seem free to indulge their styles because they know the other guy’s counterpoint is going to pull the overall sound back toward the middle. That said, the other guys, are hardly mere sideman: all the material was composed together with input from every player. Cummins compares the process to “‘Simon Says for Musicians’, where we’re trying to organize these musical ideas in the moment.” Most any musician can do this, it’s landing on your feet and keeping it interesting that’s the challenging part, and that’s where OHMphrey excels. The group fully develops ideas but has the good sense to move on to another idea before the first one gets rote. Sometimes, an idea is revisited to bring a song full circle or add to the coherency, but each song is structured a little differently.

“Devil’s In The Details” demonstrates just how schizophrenia can keep things from getting boring. Launched with a metal bent, the hard attitude makes way for a rock-jazz mid-tempo groove, then a whack interlude, then back to the heavy rock. All done with the nimbleness and unselfishness of team-minded musicians. “The Sun Also Rises” goes between two killer funk riffs (and sports a nasty-assed bass solo by the band’s de facto third lead guitarist, Pagliari). “Tom Bombadil” (see live video below) experiments with unusual rhythmic patterns, handled with sharp execution by Meyers, and the guitar duel by Poland and Cinninger is crisp and to the point.

“The River Runs” and “The Shoemaker’s Back” have strong melodies that are appealing on their own, but both guitarists know how to turn in some alternately soulful and edgy performances that caresses those melodies. “Ramona’s Car Wash” turns a Latin beat into a hard rock explosion and the Caribbean trance of “Reggaelic” is the only time the band slows down, at least until it swells up at the end.

The seven studio tracks were recorded live in the studio to give it more immediacy, but the band tacked on a couple of actual “live in front of an audience” tracks at the end to give us an even better feel for their live shows. Both are complete improvisations, starting with “Firestarter,” featuring one of Cinninger’s quicksilver percussive picking that Pag and Poland use as a springboard for their own expressions.

The ending track is a twenty-minute jam—holy circa 1971 Allman Brothers, Batman!—called “20/20.” This is probably the most Umphrey-esque of the whole album if for no other reason than it’s a twenty minute jam and even more of a group effort than the other songs. If you have the patience to make it through the whole piece, you’ll find a lot of interplay, searches for good grooves and eventually finding them. After an extended climatic raucous section from around the nine to thirteen minute mark, the boys transitions into the slower phase where the bass line is inspired by John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”

Which goes to show, it’s not just about knowing how to play, it’s knowing what to play. The guys in OHMphrey might now know what to play until seconds ahead of time, but they’re pretty good at figuring it out quickly.

Posthaste releases on April 10, by Magna Carta Records.

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