Online since August 2002

Virtuosic, but a bit sterile

Reviewed February 2008

Live at the Murat
Live at the Murat
By Umphrey's McGee

Sci-Fidelity Records: 2007

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Formed by students at Notre Dame a decade ago, jam band Umphrey's McGee is more thematically exploratory than many jam bands. Not content with focusing on technical virtuosity, they bring in a lot of jazz and modernist concepts and structures into the rock heart of their music. You're as likely to hear a riff that reminds you of Stanley Clarke or Allan Holdsworth as you are to hear echoes of King Crimson (and the odds of finding strains of the Grateful Dead are pretty minimal).

The playing is undeniably superb, but the songs – even on a two-disc "live" set containing some of their best-known tracks from all their studio albums – just aren't all that memorable. And the arrangements have a certain sameness about them after awhile – giving the album as a whole an unfortunate feeling of sterility about it. At times, the new record sounds closer to a late '70s Return to Forever or Toto album than it does, say, Frank Zappa.

There is some great playing here, some tremendous interplay between the members of the band, as well as some very impressive ensemble improvisation. Hearing folks who can riff on the spot like that is impressive, and a fun listen.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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