For most Umphreaks, January 28 has been circled on the calendar for quite awhile now. Umphrey’s McGee not only announced that they would bring along guest saxophonist Joshua Redman, but they would do so serious improvisation. From their website:

While improvisation is a staple of the live show and we have gone deeper with the S2 and Raw Stewage concepts, this evening we will take things in yet another direction: we will be performing one full set of improv, conceived and executed in real time; and with our pal Joshua Redman in the building, we are not really sure just how things will unfold.

Going into any Umphrey’s show, you never know what you’re going to get. Your favorite song? (40s Theme.) Your least favorite song? (Domino Theory) An awesome cover? (YYZ) Tonight was a complete mystery, and Umphrey’s took their fans on an exploratory adventure of improvisation. The improv set easily exceeded all expectations.

Before they started though, TAUK opened the show, and the Umphreaks came out early to catch their set. TAUK played a great opening set, including a stellar “Afro-Tonic” and a killer version of Radiohead’s “I Must Be Wrong.” The hour set went by in what seemed an instant, and although everyone would have loved to hear more, the crowd was ready for Umphrey’s.

Their set began with a “Drink My Drank” that gave way to “Conduit.” The powerful guitar hook that commences the song signaled the improv set would have to wait. “Got Your Milk (Right Here),” one of Umphrey’s shorter numbers, featured some jamming that led to a “Syncopated Strangers -> Den -> Syncopated Strangers” sandwich.

“No Diablo” got the whole place singing, and then they finally brought out their guest, saxophonist Joshua Redman. Crooked One sounded excellent with the horn, and it delved into some uplifting, positive improvisation that was not only the highlight of the set but a foreshadowing of what was to come. It ended with a short drum solo by Kris Myers that segued into “Soul Food I.” “Similar Skin” closed out the first set.

Everyone was excited about the impending improv set, and, to start it off in typical fashion, Brendan Bayliss asked the crowd for a key to begin the jam. Apparently someone yelled out G, and the improvisation began. What followed was 75 minutes of pure, 100% musical improvisation.

It started off very jazzy, with Ryan “Pony” Stasik laying down some scaley bass-lines. Notably absent from the improv was Redman though! Thankfully, he came out after about 10 minutes and immediately made his presence known. In fact, one could say that Redman was the MVP of the improv set. After he came on stage, the improvisation went to another level. The music flowed seamlessly from theme to theme.

Making it up as we go tonight.

Posted by Umphrey’s McGee on Thursday, January 28, 2016

The band played patiently, letting the music breathe, and letting it take them wherever it willed. Redman fit into the band so well that a casual observer might have surmised he was indeed a seventh member of the band. Redman and guitarist Jake Cinninger really locked into each other, often trading licks and trying to one-up the other. Of course he had his own solo time, which he took full advantage of.

Toward the end of the set, Bayliss belted out the only lyrics of the entire set when they played a lyrical “Jimmy Stewart.” It would not be surprising to hear it again in future shows. The end of of the set featured a more danceable electronic jam and along with a whistling jam. Umphrey’s encored with “Hindsight” and a cover of “Don’t You Forget About Me,” before calling it a night.

Overall, the show was a raving success. The improv set was something dreams are made of, not only for UM fans but music appreciators in general. They certainly have pioneered these types of shows with their S2 events and the UMBowl, and hopefully all improv sets can be incorporated more into the rotation. It was an absolutely amazing show, one that will no doubt go into Umphrey’s McGee lore.

Check out the setlists below:

Setlist: TAUK at the Orpheum Theater, Madison, WI – 1/28/16

Set: Darkwing, Carpentino’s Rebirth, Afro-Tonic, I Must Be Wrong, Sweet Revenge, The Chemist, Friction

Setlist: Umphrey’s McGee at the Orpheum Theater, Madison, WI – 1/28/16

Set One: Drink My Drank, Conduit, Attachments, Got Your Milk (Right Here), Syncopated Strangers, Den, Syncopated Strangers, No Diablo, The Crooked One*, Soul Food 1*, Similar Skin*

Set Two: All Improv*

Encore: Hindsight, Don’t You Forget About Me

* = w/ Joshua Redman