Within the dense aural stew that is Umphrey’s McGee some of the greatest, wrist-twistin’ stirring going on is done by keyboardist Joel Cummins. Nestled inside one of the burliest rhythm sections around and sandwiched between the ferocious twin guitar assault of Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss, Cummins rides, textural and sophisticated but nearly never flashy. He’s active as hell but not in ways that demand head-snap attention, always serving the music before his ego, and in the process becoming the secret ingredient inside what is arguably progressive rock’s greatest new top tier band in the past decade.
His solos are compact marvels that should already have him on Becker & Fagen’s shortlist for the next Steely Dan album, but generally Cummins is an instrumental conversationalist, commenting on and coaxing the best ‘dialog’ he can from his compatriots. When he does step out front he’s likely to make you sigh with the sheer beauty or intense emotional oomph of his playing. However, his ear for what isn’t being done by others – and unerring knack for filling that open space – is phenomenal. He watches and listens with undisguised enthusiasm, moving with real grace between multiple instruments in a single piece, taking from each just what each measure needs. If one wants proof of this dynamic look to Umphrey’s excellent 2011 release Death By Stereo (released September 13 on ATO), a pithy lesson in what this young yet remarkably mature keyboardist is capable of. In fact, the whole band has boiled down their wide spectrum reach into their most direct, immediately engaging collection yet, undoubtedly another stepping stone towards the heights they seem to continually climb.
Cummins is currently on a brief West Coast tour with Digital Tape Machine, who play tonight, December 2nd, in Hollywood and tomorrow, December 3rd, in San Francisco.
Here’s what Joel had to say in the Impound’s keyboardist survey.