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The Smooth Vibes of Organissimo

by Chet Eagleman, Jr.

In Grand Rapids, it's risky to include the word "jazz" when describing a band. Some folks just don't want get it and probably wouldn't even if they tried in their basement with the shades drawn. The majority of residents cling dearly to their constricted tradition that jazz is too 'urban' for them to risk going.

So, that's previous generation right? Well, no. Dead-heads can be quite single minded as well about the type (not types either) of music they identify with. Neo-hippie jam bands have been increasingly popular since the death of The Dead with plenty of clone bands clamoring for a piece of lucrative pie. These people need to remember that what they loved about the Dead musically (not lifestyle-wise), the long, stretched out jamming, was taken from American jazz. Bands with a take on jazz known for long jams like Dave Matthews, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, and Galactic often share the festival bill with groups like The Other Ones.

Groove. Channel. Furrow. In a groove; feel the groove; everybody real groovy. There are a pair of spirited, relatively loyal dancers who have been spotted at local Organissimo appearances. These young ladies-- long hair cascading, faded denim skirts with fish nets and do-me boots-could very well be sisters but probably aren't. By the way they writhe about on the dance floor, they generate an excitement all their own.

The jazzy-jam flavored trio Organissimo goes together with the hip crowd the same way that Kerouac and Burroughs fit in with Zoot Sims and Dizzy Gillespie. The organ trio with tenor saxophone has its roots deep in the rich jazz history of groove, of Jimmy Smith and Wild Bill Doggett with Illinois Jacquet. The advent of rock and roll marked the beginning of the end of the determining era of jazz, rockabilly, and folk blues. Pushing the jazz organ trio institution further down the ladder was fusion jazz in the early 70s, largely by bands undistinguishable today. Refreshing isn't it to see younger players keeping tradition alive? To borrow a phrase, Organissimo is real gone.

A bass-less group, Hammond organist Jim Alfredson keeps the bottom end warm by bumping the foot pedals on the B-3 while constantly exploring on the keys. Guitarist Joe Gloss seems kind of reserved, but that doesn't mean he won't go completely off ala Pat Metheny. Veteran drummer Randy Marsh is always inventive, keeper of the spiritual vibe-- if not some good-natured weirdness. Impulsive, creating on the spot, Organissimo swerves harmoniously between danceable R & B to adventurous hard bop.

Their debut CD has been six years in the making, ever since outstanding tenor saxophonist Ron Blake visited the MSU campus to conduct a workshop. Blake was so impressed with then-MSU Jazz students Alfredson and Gloss that they said, "We're going to record with this guy someday." Blake played on three of the nine original compositions. Also on the project was noted East Lansing engineer Glenn Brown, who helped Eminem and Kid Rock build their studios. When you get quality people like Blake and Brown to believe in your vision it's hard to go wrong.

"We had an untitled piece that we played for Ron, who danced around like a fool so we had to call it 'Blake's Shake,'" laughs Alfredson.

Traditional groove jazz or expand on the jazz idiom with a more accessible sound like Medeski Martin & Wood?

"Our goal is not to try and cop what MMW is trying to do. But we're not going to limit ourselves by saying that's not jazz or organ trio material. We just try to follow our instincts, as long as it's honest and establishes the fact that we have our own sound. But the bottom line is we try to play what the audience will respond to."

By that measure, the crowd response was encouraging on the last night of a two month commitment at Founders Ale House: The place was packed, people danced, and a good holiday vibe was shared by all just before Thanksgiving.

"We made sure we had a swing tune, some funk, and a ballad on the record. There are so many feels it's interesting to see how it all fits together," notes Alfredson.

Their first set had ended one night at Founders and with no sign of Organissimo's favorite dancers drummer Marsh remarked, "Well, here we are waiting for the boogaloo sisters."

Be sure catch Organissimo at Founders on Feb. 20 or visit for schedule updates and info on their new CD, fittingly titled, Waiting For The Boogaloo Sisters.