In June of 2017, drummer Peter Erskine’s fusion-friendly Dr. Um Band laid down new tracks in front of an audience of engineers at Sweetwater Studios in Fort Wayne, Ind. It was literally a master class on the art of recording. Eight weeks later, while working his way through Italy with the same outfit, Erskine was presented with pristine audio from a concert the group gave in Occhiobello. Rather than choose between those complementary studio and stage documents, he opted to release both as a double album.
The first of the two discs presents the music in a controlled environment. Erskine’s adroit stick work, Benjamin Shepherd’s bubbling electric basslines, John Beasley’s shiny keyboard lacquer and Bob Sheppard’s slyly sauntering horns are all captured in their truest states across a program that simmers. The music is airtight, but that precision comes with a downside: The band occasionally seems stifled or fenced in by its own design(s). Beasley’s “If So Then,” a gem marked by fiery grace, is the standout of the bunch and the clearest move away from the emphasis on texture that defines the date.
The second portion of this package finds everybody infinitely looser and lighter in spirit. This crew clearly has a good time working its way through five numbers culled from the two previous Dr. Um Band albums—the bluesy “Hipnotherapy,” a calypso-tinged “Hawaii Bathing Suit” and the groove workout “Eleven Eleven” ranking highest among them. The music is neither too mannered nor overly manic, landing on various sweet spots between those poles. Sequestered in the studio, this group tends to focus on tone and color; in concert, it lets camaraderie and interplay reign supreme.