On two separate occasions in Los Angeles I have had the pleasure of seeing fusion band OHM open up for the progressive jam of Umphrey’s McGee. Both feature talented musicians who expressed mutual respect and admiration, so it was no surprise to learn that guitarist Jake Cinninger, keyboardist Joel Cummins, and drummer Kris Myers from Umphrey’s teamed with guitarist Chris Poland and bassist Robertino Pagliari to form OHMphrey. Cinninger said, “We wanted to make a good old fashioned fusion statement,” and they succeeded.
“Someone Said You Were Dead” is heavy, with its opening machinegun guitar riff followed by a drum/bass bombardment. The complex rhythm laid down by the Myers-Pags tandem challenge the guitarists. Cummins said, “…it really opened Chris and Jake up so that they could play some amazing stuff.” Someone, likely Poland, tears it up before the final chorus.
Cummins’ keyboards dominate “The Girl From Chi Town.” At first, he creates the sound of descending, likely a heart falling under the girl’s spell. Later, two lovebirds cooing. The entire arrangement has a warm, lush tone in contrast to the previous harshness, fostering an air of romance. This track would be perfect for the scene when the lovers have their first kiss at sunset, likely on a beach, as Myers cymbals evoke crashing waves. You can get lost in each other as you get lost in the song.
The chorus on “Denny’s By The Jail” is a headbanger with its thumping, driving beat and has a damn fine solo that soars above the rest. This one is likely to get you a speeding ticket if you blast it out of the car stereo. About halfway, there’s a respite and the keyboards play around. There’s a slow-building repetition of earlier themes and the anticipation builds. The guitar screams out a one last hurrah of intensity before the band closes out the song.
Pag’s shuffling bassline on “Ice Cream” seems to take the lead as the rest of the instruments dart around him. The guitars deliver short riffs and then Pags resumes as the Pied Piper with a nice groove as everyone falls behind him. Not even three and a half minutes, but very effective.
Cummins opens “Lake Shore Drive” and again a warm tone envelopes the music, due in part to the slower tempo. As the song goes on, it repeats itself, but it doesn’t build. It just rolls along a plateau and offers no payoff, just fading away. At over eight minutes, shaving off a couple of minutes wouldn’t have hurt it
“Not Afraid Of The Dark” is harsh. The instruments’ tones are almost strident. The keys in particular don’t blend well and along with each guitar they seem to be doing their own thing, yet they make the chaos work as each one slowly fades away from the mix.
“Shrooms ‘N Cheese” is a monster, lumbering along at 15-minutes plus. It definitely sounds like the “improv-heavy” of an improv-heavy album, leaning towards the jam usually associated with Umphrey’s. There are even great pieces throughout, but altogether it doesn’t work as a cohesive whole. If they had been three separate songs, I wouldn’t have been the wiser, but that might be where the ‘shrooms come in.
“What’s The Word, Thunderbird” closes out the album with a sweet, funky, groove. The keys standout with a crazy vintage, space-age electronic effect. It’s filled with nice licks all around, and though it’s almost 12 minutes, it sounds like one piece of music even through transitions.
It’s amazing to hear tales of bands and artists spending ages locked in the studio, tweaking and fiddling about, trying to get everything just right. Then this stellar debut by OHMphrey comes out recorded over two days with no overdubs, just the fellas letting it rip. Proof positive that quality beats quantity most every time. I know they have their separate bands, and we should be, and I am, grateful to have this, but it would be very disappointing for a union this good to just be a one-off.