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Organissimo brings variety of styles up its sleeve

Show me what the boy is pounding on and I'll show you what the man will be pounding on.

One score and no years ago, a gloriously square, unwieldy, growling Hammond B-3 organ served as monkey bars, bullroarer and play telephone for 6-year-old Jim Alfredson, now the frontman for Lansing's ultra-funky Organissimo jazz combo. "It belonged to my father," says Alfredson. "I pounded around on it, pulled out the draw bars, and had a lot of fun on it as a kid."

Twenty years later, it seems as if only Alfredson's pants have changed. Along with drummer Randy Marsh and guitarist Joe Gloss, he's still pounding away and pulling out the stops, this time in his own swinging organ trio, steeped in the tradition of B-3 heroes like Jimmy Smith and Larry Young. They come to the Lansing JazzFest on the heels of their first CD release, "Waiting For the Boogaloo Sisters," an energetic, eclectic mix of burners, ballads and boppers.
Alfredson and Gloss, both from Lansing, met while taking classes at Michigan State University in 1996. Marsh, a veteran drummer from Grand Rapids, was added to the group soon after.

The variety of approaches Organissimo has up its sleeve reflects the different musical styles of its members. Gloss’ guitar style has a twinkly, diffuse quality, as if each note were a point of light shimmering through the atmospheric haze kicked up by Alfredson’s B-3. Gloss’ light and sweet touch on ballads gives the trio a romantic dimension rare in organ-led combos. Many jazz fans think of Grant Green as the definitive organ-trio guitarist, but Gloss actually puts Green to shame by avoiding the stock licks and one-note choruses that bedeviled the over-rated Blue Note legend.

Marsh, by contrast, is a nail-on-the-head, Philly Joe Jones-style drummer who keeps things squarely on the beat and avoids the murk of shifting accents and polyrhythms.

That makes Alfredson the man in the middle, constantly steering between Marsh's beer-and-pretzel yang and Gloss' wine-and-cheese yin. To this end, he draws freely from cerebral players like Larry Young, soul men like Big John Patton, and razzle-dazzlers like Don Patterson. The favorite of his four B-3's, a glorious 1958 model, serves him well in this endeavor. It punches, wails, preaches, and caresses with a suppleness belied by its age and bulk. "The B-3's changed subtly over the years," says Alfredson. "The ones from the late '50s - there's just something about them."

Alfredson is well aware that there aren't a lot of top-notch B-3 players around anymore, especially as the older ones pass on. He singles out Larry Goldings and Dan Wall as two players he admires but agrees that the instrument occupies a fairly snug niche. "It's kind of a secret society," he says. "There are things organ players do that nobody else can do." The man at the console indeed has vast power at his disposal, and can turn his surroundings into the cathedral of Notre Dame, Comiskey Park or the old chicken shack with a flick of the wrist. With great power, somebody once said, comes great responsibility.

Although the trio can be heard each Tuesday night at Billy's in Grand Rapids, kicking it out for the baseball-cap-and-buffalo-wings crowd, Alfredson is looking forward keenly to the JazzFest gig. "Sometimes it gets bombastic [at Billy's], although we have a good time. But it's nice to play a ballad, it's nice to focus on our original compositions. The Jazzfest audience will come to listen."

Don't disappoint the man, or he'll pull out the Frankenstein stop and have you looking over your shoulder all the way home.