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JazzFest '08



If you go to hear Organissimo at JazzFest this weekend, be prepared for some in vivo experimentation.

Wade through chest-thumping throbs of bass, approach organist Jim Alfredson and behold the furrowed forehead of relentless research.

Organissimo, the thinking person's party band, has always been serious about good times. The formula is simple: Get the physics right, and the chemistry will follow.

The trio's new CD, “Groovadelphia,” finds Alfredson's ever-evolving keyboards, the lyrical guitar of Joe Gloss and the whip-smart drums of Randy Marsh meshing more tightly than ever.

“I think we're still in the spring of the arc,” Alfredson said of his national-chart-topping, Lansing-based combo. “We've been together eight years, but we haven't achieved half of the things I want the band to achieve.”

Alfredson's subconscious mind reveals itself in unlikely places. Visit the trio's Web site and you will find a lengthy essay on the merits of his new Leslie 3300 speaker, the magic box that will make your chest explode if you come near the stage.

“It's great,” Alfredson said. “If I pair it up with a subwoofer, the bass is super-defined. Randy said he could hear the bass cleaner than ever.”

The article lovingly recounts every phase of Alfredson's relationship with the speaker, as if it were a newly delivered mail-order bride from the Ukraine.

In the thick of Alfredson's ardor, he runs logarithmic tests on the speaker's output but inadvertently uses the spelling “logarhythmic,” proving in spite of himself that he runs one funky laboratory. (Now he'll probably go in there and fix it.)

Alfredson's latest gadget is a digital Hammond B-3 that combines the kick of an old-fashioned, chicken-shack groove machine with a massive arsenal of expressive possibilities.

Without looking up, he might slip into a funky electric piano vamp, send a rattlesnake synth vibration up your spine or break out in wee-oo-wee-oo balladry.

The effects are hard to fight because they're blended seamlessly into the trio's familiar organ licks. By the time you ask whether the needle's in yet, Dr. A. has already billed your insurance.

“It's like playing the real thing,” he said of his new axe, “but you have a ton more flexibility. You control other sound modules and other keyboards — whatever you want.”

Organissimo rose to No. 3 on national jazz charts for its 2005 album, “This Must Be The Place,” a rare feat for an independently made recording.

Can they top themselves with the next?

“I don't really worry about it,” Alfredson said.

The confidence came in part from the new studio the organist put together in his Lansing home.

With no worries about racking up expensive studio time, the trio had plenty of opportunity to trade and refine ideas.

The songwriting credits on “Groovadelphia” tell the tale. In a departure from previous albums, all but two tracks are credited to all three members. The tunes are more layered and subtle than ever, without losing momentum.

And the home studio gave Alfredson even more apparatus to experiment with.

“I read every article I could on acoustics,” he said.

Building a studio, like playing the organ, was inevitable for Alfredson. He started fiddling with tape recorders when he was 4 years old. At 7, he was making up songs and radio shows with family and friends, multi-tracking with two tape decks.

“My brother and I had a show called ‘Cookie Man's Cookie Talk Show,' where we tried to make recipes and failed miserably,” he said. “You could hear all this stuff clanging around in the background as we ruined the kitchen.”

Starting at 7 or 8, Alfredson started composing tunes on a little organ. He met his musical match in 1997, when he befriended mesmerizing guitarist Joe Gloss at MSU. (Gloss, a professor of jazz at MSU, will lead his own trio, with bassist Noah Jackson and drummer Jeff Shoup, Saturday at 6:30.)

Veteran drummer Randy Marsh made it a trio in 2000.

Gloss and Marsh are multifaceted musicians in their own right. Alfredson's strong musical presence — not to mention his elephantine instrument — cries for a strong counterbalance. But Gloss doesn't go head to head with his bandmates. With a gentle presence and infinite musical sensitivity, he balloons the group into rarefied layers of contemplation and lyricism. Meanwhile, Marsh keeps the mercurial melodies and tricky meters nailed down, eschewing showy solos.

The experimentation of “Groovadelphia” even extends to the wild oil-slick patterns on the CD sleeve by Lansing artist Jim Colando.

The art is special to Alfreson for more than one reason. Alfredson's dad, a piano tuner and prime Organissimo fan, suggested Colando, a client, for the cover design.

Shortly before the CD was ready, Alfredson went with his dad to visit Colando. While his father tuned the piano, Alfredson and Colando pored over the artist's work.

Shortly after the trip, Alfredson's father died. It was the last time father and son went on a job together. Alfredson the younger plans to continue the piano tuning business. He dedicated “Groovadelphia” to his father.

Meanwhile, he's helping his wife raise two young children, and the music keeps flowing.

“Stuff is coming out of the air all the time,” Alfredson said. “Just today I had this whole tune running through my head from the minute I got in my car.”

Alfredson was driving to a studio where his other group, a soul-groove unit called Root Doctor, was scheduled to record. When he arrived, he told the engineer to wait a minute. “I went into the room and played a little Wurlitzer piano into my phone so I could get the idea down,” he said. “I'll work it out later.”