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Organissimo releases live album at Founders Brewing show

GRAND RAPIDS -- Organissimo has pumped out its soulful music for nearly a decade, but the trio has never uncorked vocals amid its jazzy, bluesy instrumentals.

The band's new live album, "Alive & Kickin'," with a couple of tracks recorded at Grand Rapids' Founders Brewing Co., is no exception: It's filled with the rich, Hammond organ-inflected strains that have made Organissimo a true Michigan phenomenon.

But truth be told, organ-meister Jim Alfredson is also an accomplished singer, having done a fair amount of crooning for other bands.

So might he test those vocal cords with Organissimo in the future? Part of it depends on how much more of the trio fans might see in the future.

"We'd have to have the right material to do it. I think it would have to be something original," said Alfredson, 32, of Lansing. "I've got a whole slew of my own songs just sitting in the can that have lyrics, so maybe I'll do something with those."

The prospects of expanding Organissimo's musical reach -- which could include recording a CD with a horn section or vibes -- intrigues Alfredson, guitarist Joe Gloss and drummer Randy Marsh. But marketing the instrumental trio has gotten ever tougher in this sluggish economy and the trio goes on an extended hiatus after Saturday's show at Founders.

That's because Alfredson has been tapped to tour the country for several months with Los Angeles-based blues singer Janiva Magness, a native of Detroit and Alligator Records artist.

After packing up from Saturday's gig, Alfredson will take an early Sunday flight from Detroit to Los Angeles, where he'll meet up with Magness for rehearsals.

"She's kind of a rising star in the blues scene, so I jumped at the opportunity to play with her," said Alfredson, who played some February shows with her after a Detroit musician recommended him.

Alfredson anticipates the tour might spread his name -- and that of Organissimo -- to new markets. He plans to return to Michigan in late fall, when he might book some Organissimo shows.

(Alfredson does plan to fly back in late April for two daytime Organissimo performances in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo as part of the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival before rejoining Magness.)

The other band members will stay busy: Gloss teaches jazz guitar as a visiting professor at Michigan State University, and the in-demand Marsh offers drum lessons at Grand Rapids' RIT Music, along with pursuing other musical projects, including Claudia Schmidt's Funtet band, which releases a CD later this month.

"Jim's leaving and going on tour ... is probably the best thing that could happen for all of us right now," insisted Marsh, 58, noting trio bookings have dropped off and Alfredson deserves broader recognition for his talents. "I ... will miss the special feeling I always get when I'm on a gig with Organissimo."

While the trio has cultivated enthusiastic audiences for its music in the Midwest, East Coast and Europe, "it's been tough as nails to book gigs, especially for instrumental music" the past couple of years, Alfredson said. "I have every belief the band is a great band and world-class, it's just a matter of people knowing who we are."

Most songs on the new live album were recorded at East Lansing's public TV station, WKAR, as part of its "BackStage Pass" series. The award-winning trio also plans to sell a DVD of that concert at its CD-release show.

Alfredson said the band opted for a live album because fans requested it and because many tunes "have kind of taken on a life of their own and they're different from the studio version."

For instance, the eight-minute "Pumpkin Pie" from 2004's "This is the Place" is now an 18-minute feast of improvisation. "There's an energy to a live show that's really hard to capture in a studio," he added.

While Saturday's concert marks the last time many fans will feel that energy for a good while, Alfredson has high hopes Organissimo won't disappear from the landscape entirely. "This is my first love for sure," he said.

~ John Sinkevics, Grand Rapids Press, 4/7/2010