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Organ-heavy jazz trio appeals to all types of music fans

Christian Czerwinski | NOISE

Organissimo doesn't care if rock and rap hold sway over the current youth culture. They don't care if jazz shows don't sell out local clubs either. Their concern is making honest and accessible music with substantive compositional content. Or at least something to that effect.

At first sight, a three-piece jazz band might not seem to fit into the local sonic landscape. Jim Alfredson's Hammond B-3 organ could appear out of place on stage. And Randy Marsh's groove-inciting harmonica is a throwback in this era of neo-punk. Big deal. If it's the end product that counts, then Organissimo delivers the goods.

"We appeal to people of all types, even to people who want to dance" said the laid-back Alfredson, who began writing music at age 8. "Music is more image-conscious than ever and we're not a flashy band."

If pop usually relies on superficial imagery to get its message across, then jazz is all about instrumentation. Alfredson, the band leader, and guitarist Joe Gloss, both of Lansing, knew that back in college. They joined up with Grand Rapids drummer Marsh back in 2000 and have played jazz with a traditional background since then.

But while most jazz artists are stylists, the band strikes a chord as innovators, especially on their second and latest album, the 10-track This is the Place (which hit No. 25 on the JazzWeek Top 50 chart just three weeks after its release). Organissimo tries to infuse elements into the work that aren't usually heard in the genre. They define their sound as halfway between funk and soul jazz and think they've honed it on two self-produced albums.

"We're not afraid to branch out. 'Peaches En Ragalia' is a Frank Zappa tune on the new album and that came out really good. And with 'Tenderly' an old 1940s standard mostly played as a ballad, we play in a different setting," Alfredson said.

"People think they know what jazz is but they don't want to give it a shot. I think it has bad connotations. They think it's just people up there blowing their instruments."

Alfredson, who went through the whole " '80s rock thing," found his father's Jimmy Smith records and was instantly hooked. Smith hammered away on the Hammond organ in the '50s and '60s, showing it could be used in a jazz context. Smith's influences can be found all the way down to the Beastie Boys. Since then, The Doors and Led Zeppelin have brought the organ into pop culture.

The organ sounds like something heard in church and provides the base for most of the band's sound, characterized by a driving rhythm. The music on the new album oscillates between relaxing and slow on "Brother Ray," written for the late Ray Charles, and upbeat on "Peaches En Regalia."

"We stand as an example of what can come from positive creativity and having a common goal. It's about continuing to grow, too," Gloss said. "Musicians have a lot of inferiority complexes. You should be able to make a musical statement with what we know."

So what do they know? They know where they came from because they've studied the origins of jazz and who pioneered it. They're such a hit within their circle that they have about 1,500 members on their Web site's discussion forum. In all, they've counted about 400,000 posts from folks who have something to say about jazz.

Alfredson's ultimate goal is to make a living as a musician. He's not too keen on fame, opting instead for respect. "I always defined myself by being a musician," he said.

And Gloss agreed.

"This is what I think about all the time. Music wipes the dust off people's shoes," he said.