Like Cream's "Wheels of Fire", "Ummagumma" is a one live lp, one studio lp double album.
The live lp has four songs from Pink Floyd's repertoire at the time. All are well recorded and feature powerful performances that are surprisingly muscular and represent the peak recordings of Pink Floyd's career as space rock voyagers. The group show a good sense of dynamics; building and dismantling and rebuilding pieces in performance. All of the songs played are considerably expanded from their original studio recordings and feature clever abstract sections that do not sink into the sort of free jamming that something like The Grateful Dead's abstract "Feedback" section did.
The studio lp is divided into four quarters with each quarter given to contributions from an individual group member. Richard Wright's front parlor piano style marks out his contribution before adopting a more strident, discordant tone. Crashes and bangs follow along with runs up and down the keyboard and attacks on the strings of the piano. Accompanied by percussion and vocal effects, Wright then assails what sounds like a prepared piano. Organ, bird song and running water come next with some slight slide guitar. Finally, a horrible organ chord with cymbals and timpani followed by more organ work, the slide guitar again and some sheets of sound before the return of the intimating theme of the piece. Overall, it feels slightly rushed. Almost a "will this do" approach and not much of a development from the band's own "A Saucerful of Secrets" number.
Roger Waters offers two separate recordings. The first, "Grantchester Meadows" is a bucolic acoustic number slightly reminiscent of "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen and featuring bird songs and other sound effects including that of a fly being swatted. Waters' other offering, "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict", comprises multi-layered vocal effects arranged to convey the scene portrayed in the title of the piece. It certainly illustrates Roger Waters' willingness to make a fool of himself but is also, in my view, the most listenable of all the tracks on the studio lp.
David Gilmour's "The Narrow Way" focuses, as one might expect, on his guitar playing. First, he finger picks and strums a rolling pattern that has only a very slight melody flavoured with some random slide parts. Some heavy metal riffing follows accompanied by George of the Jungle patterns on the tom toms and more slide guitar effects. Along with Richard Wright's high pitched organ settings, Gilmour's liberal use of the slide guitar is behind almost all of Pink Floyd's spacey sounding material from this period. Finally, Gilmour offers us a song based on descending chords marked out first by the piano and then an ascending chorus all accompanied again by a slide guitar before drums and bass join in. Some more guitars appear and the song plays to fade out but not before the group begins to run out of steam.
Nick Mason's "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party" features two iterations of a flute theme beginning and ending a percussion sequence augmented by some spacey sounds and tape effects. It is reminiscent of a demonstration disc for showing the quality of your stereo system (here is a sound in the left speaker, and here is another sound in the right speaker). He does manage to play a melody on what sounds like blowing across the tops of bottles filled with different levels of liquid, so that is something. A brief drum solo serves only to demonstrate that Mason is no Ginger Baker. In attempting to make music out of random sounds, the piece perhaps foreshadows the group's household objects experiment of a few years later.
Overall, "Ummagumma" is not a great album but is bold stuff for a group still finding their mature voice.