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organissimo expands sonic palette on album

Tribune Staff Writer

In just 13 months' time, Jim Alfredson has become a familiar and welcome presence on the local music scene as a member of the soul band Root Doctor and his jazz trio organissimo.

After performing yesterday at Elkhart's Island of Blues Festival, the Lansing-based Hammond B-3 organist returns to Trio's Restaurant and Jazz Club in South Bend on Friday with organissimo.

He'll also have a new album with him, “Groovadelphia,” and as its title suggests, it's a groove-laden workout for organissimo with funky moments, sublime melodic passages, Latin rhythms, and gospel and soul all contributing to the trio's strong jazz foundation.

Among other highlights, the album includes the absolutely jovial concert favorite “My Sweet Potato Pie,” which drummer Randy Marsh's father, Arno, wrote more than “40 years ago, but he never recorded it, so it's been around for a while,” and that features a Stevie Wonder-style harmonica solo by Randy Marsh. Guitarist Joe Gloss turns in an explosive solo on “Señor Buffet,” while “Third Right on the Left” shifts the rhythm to a jaunty shuffle and highlights Alfredson's affinity for soul in his solo.

“I think what we wanted to do was kind of make it a true trio record,” he says by telephone from his home in Lansing, where he's been mixing a live album for Root Doctor that will be released in the fall. “The last two CDs had a couple of special guests on them, and we wanted to do this with just the three of us and see what we could do as a trio.”

As a trio, Alfredson, Gloss and Marsh have produced a varied but consistent album that features Gloss' guitar almost as much as it does Alfredson's organ.

“I think it illustrates that in our group, anyways, the organ might be the largest instrument” — Alfredson laughs — “but it doesn't always have to take center stage,” the organist says. “That's one of the reasons why we call ourselves by a name instead of being The Jim Alfredson Trio. It's collaborative.”

That begins, Alfredson says, with the songwriting process.

“Most of the songs started out as Joe and I just getting together and writing, but as we weren't in the studio and on the clock, we really took our time about breaking down the tunes,” he says. “That's where Randy's help became important. He really had some great ideas about arrangements or adding sections to a tune — a bridge. He would say, ‘This tune needs something else. It's getting too repetitive.' And then we would come up with something else. Most of these tunes, we've been playing for quite a while so it was nice to get inside them and kind of tear them down and build them back up.”

Alfredson also adds selective uses of a Fender Rhodes and a Moog synthesizer to his playing on the Hammond XK3 digital organ system to expand the trio's sound.

“I think it's getting back to my roots and what I grew up with,” he says. “I was a big fan of progressive rock and bands that used a lot of different sounds. Obviously, I love the Hammond sound, but it's nice to augment it. With the new one I play, the digital one, the XK, you can layer in other sounds and still control it from the organ.”

The title track, for example, contains a blues-inspired section that features Alfredson on the Fender Rhodes before he jumps back to the Hammond for a tightly constructed soul-infused solo, while the soft, slow-tempo “Traces” incorporates tasteful synthesizer lines for atmosphere to introduce Gloss' Spanish-flavored guitar solo. Both “Danco De Alma” and “Rhodesia” open with Alfredson also on the Rhodes, the latter calling to mind Paul Simon's “Still Crazy After All These Years” with its sound, grace and pop melody.

The trio recorded “Groovadelphia” over the course of six days, two of which were for rehearsal, in “old-school” fashion.

“We were all in the same room with no isolation, so if you did mess up, you had to start over again,” Alfredson says. “There couldn't be any overdubbing, so I think that helped this recording sound more live than the other two.”

Their tight playing and Alfredson's organ, however, keep “Groovadelphia” consistent throughout, one of his goals in setting out to make the album.

“I think a lot of times with jazz records, not a lot of thought is put into it,” he says. “You play the tune and move on and there isn't a lot of continuity or flow to it. … I like those records that you put on and listen to for 45 minutes or an hour. We wanted to make a record that takes you someplace else for a little bit.”