organissimo in the studio

Golly gee, it’s been awhile since I updated this site. The last year has been a whirlwind and here it is almost a month into 2016 already. Whew! Well, let me catch my breath and catch you up on my life for the past 9 months.

At the end of 2014 I officially left the Janiva Magness band. I toured and recorded with that wonderful group for four and a half years and thoroughly enjoyed my tenure with them, but it was time for a change. It might seem like a political cliché but I really did want to spend more time with my family, including my three young daughters, and less time on the road. And I missed my wife.

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So I said my goodbyes and began 2015 with a bit of uncertainty but a whole lot of pride as I released my first progressive rock album, THEO – The Game Of Ouroboros, to widespread acclaim. This was followed by Greg Nagy’s third album Stranded in March, which I produced, engineered, mixed, mastered, wrote songs for, performed on, and put a lot of sweat equity into. Both THEO and Stranded were included in Best of 2015 lists late last year. Stranded was named one of the best releases of 2015 by none other than Downbeat magazine. Both are currently up for WYCE Jammie Awards, which don’t really mean anything outside of Michigan but isn’t it nice to be recognized by your peers in your hometown?

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Since then I’ve been working on a follow-up to THEO and revitalizing my jazz trio organissimo. Our current guitarist Larry Barris has helped to breathe new life into the group and we’ve been writing new songs, playing fun gigs, and even doing some light touring on the East Coast.

We’re also working on two new albums worth of material. The first is our interpretation of classic songs by The Beatles. The second is all original material. We made a quick teaser video for the project which you can watch below.

We’re also working on collating several multi-track and video recordings of various gigs we did over the last few months for a live high-def video/audio package.

In between that, I’ve been tuning and repairing pianos, doing my best to carry on my father’s legacy as a dependable and affordable piano tech in the Lansing area, playing with many other bands and musicians, mixing albums and EPs for other people (including trombonist Michael Dease and guitarist Randy Napoleon, both Professors of Jazz at Michigan State University), and touring and recording with Big Apple Blues.

I’ve also contributed reviews to Keyboard Magazine and I’ve recently perfected the art of making omelets. Life is good!

Thank you for your continued support via this page and my YouTube channel, the organissimo site including our extremely popular jazz discussion forum, hanging with me over on FB and The Keyboard Corner, and asking me about all things Hammond via all those channels and email. I’ll be more diligent in updating this site in 2016, I promise!

The Keyboards of THEO pt. 2

THEO ‘The Game Of Ouroboros’ is my progressive rock release. I worked on the album for almost four years in between touring with the Janiva Magness band, playing numerous local gigs, tuning and repairing pianos, and releasing two other albums (organissimo’s Dedicated and Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers – A Tribute To Big John Patton). 

I wanted to not only bring the keyboards back to the forefront in rock music but also strike a balance between classic vintage sounds and more modern textures. In this multi-part series, I will describe the different keyboards and synthesizers, both hardware and software, that I used on the album. You can read Part 1 here.

MOOG MINIMOOG VOYAGER (Signature Edition)

It goes without saying that the original Minimoog is an iconic instrument and its legacy is well deserved. I always wanted a Minimoog but decided on the Voyager, Moog’s modern re-creation, due to the performance features including presets. As cool as the idea is in theory, I did not want to haul around two or more original Minimoogs just to have two different sounds available while playing live.

I purchased my Signature Edition Voyager in the early spring of 2008. I bought it used from a fellow synthesizer enthusiast in St. Claire Shores, MI. When I walked into his modest brick home that sunny yet chilly March day, I entered a living room filled with amazing analog synthesizers including an original Minimoog, two ARP 2600s, Korg PS series synths, a couple EMS VC3 synths, a Memorymoog, and more that I cannot even recall. To my surprise he had kids and a wife as well! He recorded everything onto 1″ tape and his music, which he graciously played for me, is best described as Berlin-style ambient electronica (Tangerine Dream).

My rig for the making of the album "In Memorandom" circa 2009. Moog Voyager on top of a Yamaha SY77 and SY99.

My rig for the making of the album “In Memorandom” circa 2009. Moog Voyager on top of a Yamaha SY77 and SY99.

The Voyager was my first analog synthesizer. I had grown up with digital synths including the venerable Yamaha DX7. I also briefly had an Ensoniq ESQ-1, a Casio CZ-1000 borrowed from a friend, and later my Yamaha SY77 which I still own and use. But I wanted a real analog for some time and the Voyager was my ideal.

I was also in the process of recording organissimo’s third album, Groovadelphia, in my home studio. One particular track, If Not Now When?, needed something. I kept hearing a simple sinusoidal lead line, like Stevie Wonder would’ve played on the TONTO synthesizer, weaving in and out. I made a sound on my Motif ES rack and it worked fine enough but when I finally got the Voyager home and created the patch it sounded so much richer and fit in the mix so easily. I was hooked. I made up my mind that I would get a true analog polysynth (see The Keyboards of THEO Part I – The Alesis Andromeda).

I used the Voyager extensively on THEO – The Game of Ouroboros. Most of the lead synth lines are the Voyager, sometimes layered with Steinberg’s Retrologue just to add to the thickness of the sound. The ethereal chords at the beginning of The Blood That Floats My Throne are also the Voyager. I also used it for almost all the basslines during the writing and demo stage but those were replaced by Gary Davenport on Chapman stick or fretless bass.

Funny enough, I also used the Voyager as my main MIDI controller as I was writing the songs on THEO, playing parts into Cubase. A lot of these parts would eventually be replaced by real instruments but a good portion of them stayed including the tracks of Camel Audio’s Alchemy VST.

One of my favorite solos on the THEO album is from These Are The Simple Days, which is played on the Moog Voyager. It was also the first through-composed solo I wrote on the album, which was a real challenge for me. Improvising a solo is no problem with my jazz background, but actually writing a solo that will always be the same (like Tony Banks did with Genesis) was much more difficult. After weeks of failures, I finally set upon the idea of improvising several takes and then combining the best elements into a cohesive statement. I think it turned out well.

The above is from the original demo recording with fake drums and no guitar yet added. You can hear the entire song from the complete CD in this video.

The Moog Voyager is truly a beautiful synthesizer both aesthetically and musically. I have tried several times to replace it with other synths, mostly for live purposes (it is quite heavy and large to haul around) but nothing I’ve used so far sounds as good. It’s a joy to play and the variety of sounds is astonishing given the relative simplicity of it’s subtractive synthesis.

Next week in Pt III – The mighty synthesizers.com modular

Shoe-gate! (…and the Roland JD-Xi)

I’m honored that Keyboard Magazine asked me to review the new Roland JD-Xi synthesizer. The written review will appear in the upcoming May 2015 issue.

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Roland is marketing this mini-key synth as a “Crossover Synthesizer”. This double entendre refers to the combination of a two-part digital synth engine with a monophonic analog synth engine that’s reminiscent of the SH-101 and that the synth is supposed to appeal to both synth enthusiasts / keyboard players, and non-keyboard playing musicians / producers as well.

Keyboard Magazine posted a video I made in my humble home studio detailing the main features of the instrument. The enthusiast site Synthtopia posted it as well and some of the comments are funny! Several people complained that the video didn’t go in depth enough (that’s because it is an overview, not a review). Other people claimed a vast conspiracy headed by Roland to dissuade any negative press. And about a half dozen people commented on my shoes and the “poor production quality” of the video. I’m now officially referring to this as Shoe-gate!

To ‘clear the air’ about my funky footwear in the video; they are a pair of 15 year old New Balance sneakers that are my “bum around the house” shoes. I had forgotten I had them on when I recorded the video but other than the faux pas about the filter (which is obviously a 4-pole/24db filter and not a 24 pole filter; I simply misspoke) I thought the video did what Keyboard asked; that is, give a brief overview of the features. It is not intended as an in-depth review, which again is being printed in the May 2015 issue.

I’m thinking that quirky kicks will be my trademark from here on out! What will I wear next?

Get ready, Synthtopia nerds! I'm coming for you!

Get ready, Synthtopia nerds! I’m coming for you!

Here’s the video. Avert your eyes if you are offended by loathsome loafers!!!

 

Yamaha SY99 Demo

The Yamaha SY99 synthesizer was released in 1991 as the flagship of Yamaha’s line. Around that same time (maybe 1990?) my father and I drove to Detroit from the Lansing area with $2000 in cash to purchase a floor model of the SY99’s little brother, the SY77. Having sold his Yamaha DX7, Yamaha RX7 drum machine, an Ensoniq ESQ-1, a Fostex four-track cassette recorder, and some other goodies to fund the purchase, my dad and I were very excited to get the SY77. I loved that synth and used it every day for years and years. But I have to admit I always lusted after the SY99 because you could load your samples into it’s massive 512kb internal memory! Watch out!

Yamaha SY99

Yamaha SY99. Ironically, this jpeg is larger than the internal user sample memory available in the SY99.

I still have the SY77 as briefly discussed in a previous post and since everything is cyclical, the digital synth behemoths of yesteryear are not worth all that much these days, with a few exceptions. Everybody has gone analog crazy! So a few years ago I found and purchased an SY99 for a ridiculously low price. I used it sparingly on In Memorandom and I’ve been slowly programming a bank of analog emulations using only the FM engine. Otherwise, it hasn’t seen much use.

Yamaha SY99 with the SYN WAVE 2 voice and data cards.

Yamaha SY99 with the SYN WAVE 2 voice and data cards.

Lately I’ve been looking for some waveform cards. These are cards that Yamaha released to expand the available waveforms for the SY77 and they are compatible with the SY99 as well. I also recently discovered that someone is working on creating new waveform cards that can be loaded with your own samples!  Amazing. That same person reverse engineered the RAM expansion cards, which are impossible to find, and offers the recreations for sale on his Sector 101 page. He also offers FLASH RAM for the Yamaha EX series, again reverse engineered. I like this guy!

Sector 101 SYEMB05 RAM expansion module for the SY99.

Sector 101 SYEMB05 RAM expansion module for the SY99.

But back to the waveform cards: I’ve been searching for a particular set for a few years and finally found them for a decent price on eBay. The SYN WAVE 2 card contains sampled waveforms from the venerable Yamaha CS80 and has a companion card with patches created from these waves. So I decided to make a little demo of it!

For the video, I connected my SY99 to the Eventide TimeFactor and SPACE pedals. The onboard effects in the SY99 are not the best, though they were quite good for the time. Some of the patches use a combination of onboard effects and the outboard pedals but most have the internal effects bypassed. All sounds are from the SY99 SYN WAVE 2 card set with the exception of the drums, which are from the Roland JD-Xi that I just finished reviewing for Keyboard Magazine (more on that neat little synth in a later post).

The SY77 and SY99 are capable of some amazing sounds. The AFM (Advanced Frequency Modulation) engine is very powerful and flexible and they are the only synthesizers I know, software or hardware, that can use sample waveforms as operators in the FM synthesis engine. Plus they are built like tanks. My poor SY77 has survived six foot drops onto concrete and hundreds of gigs in its 25 years of service. So far I’ve only had to replace the floppy drive belt, LCD screen (which dim over time), and the small battery that powers the internal memory when turned off. I did the same to the SY99 when I received it. Up next is replacement of some of the push buttons on the SY77, which are beginning to fail after years and years of repeated use.

I would love to see Yamaha release another FM synthesizer coupled with the modern Motif AWM2 engine. But that will probably never happen in this age of inexpensive software synths. However, if the recent acquisition of Camel Audio by Apple proves anything, it’s that software is only as reliable as the support it receives from the company. I adore Camel Audio’s Alchemy and use it constantly. It’s on every track on THEO – The Game Of Ouroboros, usually multiple instances of it. And now the company is under Apple’s banner and most likely will not support PC users like myself anymore. So be it. But hardware survives even the death of the manufacturer. And with third party folks like the aforementioned Sector 101 guy supporting them as well, it looks like the SY series will be around a long time.

Long live hardware! And long live the SY99!

Early 90s digital synth sexiness!

Early 90s digital synth sexiness!

 

 

THEO Press Release

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For Immediate Release

Prog Ensemble THEO Featuring Renowned Keyboardist Jim Alfredson Release Debut CD ‘The Game Of Ouroboros’

“… Jim Alfredson … is a remarkable organist who seamlessly synthesizes several generations of keyboard influences” – Downbeat

Lansing, MI – Jim Alfredson is best known for his work with acclaimed jazz trio organissimo and is considered among the best Hammond organists working today. His newest project is a solo album known under the name THEO that originated as a rediscovery of Alfredson’s affection towards the classic era of progressive rock. Inspired by classic bands like Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Genesis, THEO brings epic songwriting and sweeping narratives back to the forefront with contemporary sensibilities and production. The album is scheduled for release on January 27, 2015 via Big O Records (USA) and Generation Prog Records (Europe). It is available as a download, as an audio CD, and as a limited edition CD / Blu-Ray set with 5. 1 surround mixes.

Says Jim, “The over-arching theme of the album explores how we react to power. Some people react by protesting and demanding change. Some subscribe to the ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ mantra. Some ignore it all together. And some of those who do expose it are scapegoated and exiled. In the midst of all this, we’re all just trying to live our lives and do the best we can. It seems that the era of the protest song is long gone. The political and social activity in the music of the 60s seems to have petered out and been replaced by faux rebellion, pre-packaged and test marketed. The message is essentially one of questioning power and authority and dissatisfaction with the status quo. From a musical perspective, my goal with this album was to return progressive music back to its melodic roots and the keyboards back to the forefront. I wanted to be reverent of the past classic groups but with my own spin and get away from the really heavy, guitar-driven prog that is very prevalent now.”

Along with Jim on keyboards, THEO’s ‘The Game Of Ouroboros’ features Gary Davenport on bass, Kevin DePree on drums, and Jake Reichbart on guitar. The album, which is scheduled for release on January 27, 2015, took close to 3 years to complete due to Jim’s previous commitments and heavy touring schedule.

Jim explains, “I began writing it in 2010. That’s the same year I joined the touring and recording band for the blues artist Janiva Magness who is based in Los Angeles. Between 2010 and 2014, I toured extensively with her and appeared on her last two albums. We toured all over the US and several times in Europe and Canada. It was a great experience but also left little time for family and for writing my own music. Somehow I managed to release two organissimo albums in that time and a solo jazz project called Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers. Also during that time I recorded a lot of snippets of ideas on my iPhone while on the road during sound checks, in hotel rooms, and endlessly barreling down the highway to the next gig. When the touring season ended each year, usually at the end of October, I would collate these ideas and work on the best ones. We would start touringagain the following February, so I had only a few months to really work on things.

“… Jim Alfredson is one of the faces of the new millennium’s Jazz renaissance.” – Hammondbeat

Although primarily known for his skill on the Hammond organ, Jim utilizes a wide range of textures on THEO. The rough and raw sound of analog synthesizers firmly connects the album to the halcyon era of progressive music while careful use of modern computer-based synths extends the music into the present. Acoustic piano underpins much of the album contrasted by swirling rhythmic elements easily at home in modern electronica. Gary Davenport’s deft work on the fretless bass significantly contributes to the album’s sonic appeal as does his mastery of the Chapman Stick on the first three tracks. Another noteworthy highlight is the real pipe organ on the track ‘The Blood That Floats My Throne’, skillfully recorded to capture the awe-inspiring majesty of the instrument.

For 10 years, Jim served as organist and musical director of the highly successful, award-winning rhythm & blues band Root Doctor (1999 – 2009) producing three CDs for the band. Jim formed the jazz trio organissimo in 2000. organissimo has released five critically acclaimed CDs and a DVD in the intervening years. In 2009 Jim released a very limited edition solo CD dedicated to the memory of his father called ‘In Memorandom’. Also in 2009, Jim engineered and produced Greg Nagy’s debut solo record ‘Walk That Fine Thin Line’ followed by Nagy’s ‘Fell Towards None’ and ‘Stranded’. From 2010 to 2014, Jim served as the keyboardist and primary background vocalist in the touring band for blues singer Janiva Magness. He toured nationally and internationally with the band and is featured on Ms. Magness’ Alligator Records release ‘Stronger For It’ as well as her self-released album ‘Original’. In October 2013, Jim released another solo project entitled ‘Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers’, a tribute to jazz organ great Big John Patton.

“Alfredson… draws an audience’s attention with the vivid character of [his] compositions and the unerring precision of [his] ensemble playing…” – Chicago Tribune

To purchase THEO ‘ The Game Of Ouroboros’ CD:
www.big-o-records.comwww.generation-prog.com

For more information: www.jimalfredson.com, www.theoHQ.com
Press inquiries: Glass Onyon PR, PH: 828-350-8158, glassonyonpr@gmail.com

THEO featured on Progstravaganza compilation

I’m very proud that a track from my new THEO album is on the latest Progstravaganza compilation from Prog Sphere. The compilation is entitled “The New Generation Of Prog 2014″ and features some heavyweights of the new breed including HAKEN and Cea Serin.

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Progstravaganza Compilation 2014

Click the image above to check it out. The track is called Idle Worship. Then go to my PledgeMusic campaign to pre-order the new album. We’ve got about three weeks left are we’re just over 50% to the goal. There are still some great items available including three Hammond Leslie pedals and more.

Pre-order the album here: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/theo

THEO launches

I’m really excited to announce the launch of my PledgeMusic campaign for THEO. THEO is my progressive rock project, a musical endeavor I’ve been working on for the last four years. It’s quite different from the type of music I’m known for (ie jazz and blues) but in many ways is a return to my roots.

I’ve teamed with PledgeMusic to bring THEO to fruition. And there’s a bunch of cool stuff you can pre-order including a hi-res digital download of the album, CDs, 5.1 surround mixes, t-shirts, keychains, Leslie pedals, and even a Privia PX5s!

Check it out and snag your copy today. And when you do, share the page with your friends.

http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/theo

Cover art of the new THEO album.

Cover art of the new THEO album.

Press release for THEO

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Big O Records (Lansing, MI) is excited to present the debut album by the new progressive rock band THEO. Formed by world reknown keyboardist Jim Alfredson (organissimo, Dirty Fingers, Janiva Magness, Greg Nagy Band, Root DoctorTHEO harkens back to the keyboard-centric superbands of the 1970s like YesGenesis, and Emerson Lake and Palmer, but with a distinctly modern and bold approach.

Alfredson is joined by bassist Gary Davenport (805 Band, Janiva Magness), drummer Kevin Depree (Sound Is Red, Greg Nagy Band) and guitarist Jake Reichbart. The eponymous debut album features six tracks including an epic 30 minute opening suite.

Jim Alfredson is best known for his work with acclaimed jazz trio organissimo and is considered among the best Hammond organists working today. As Downbeat magazine wrote, “Alfredson is a remarkable organist who seamlessly synthesizes several generations of keyboard influences…” Keyboard magazine, in reviewing organissimo‘s album Alive & Kickin’, wrote that Alfredson successfully walk[s] the line between complex and accessible…

With THEOAlfredson brings his considerable musicianship to bear on his first love, progressive rock. As Alfredson explains: “I grew up listening to Peter GabrielGenesisYesJethro Tull,King CrimsonGentle Giant… all the classic prog bands. I even made my own prog ‘album’ when I was 16 that I passed out to friends and family. But then I was bitten by the jazz bug and dedicated the next 17 years of my life to figuring out that music. Surprisingly, that education paved the road back to progressive music, back to my love of synthesizers and exploring different musical forms. I feel like my musical journey has brought me full circle.

THEO also represents a return to the concept of the keyboardist as a vital and irreplaceable part of the group, rather than a mere sideman. “Most prog these days is metal-based,” says Alfredson, “and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I feel like it’s past time keyboardists get our due again. My primary influence is Tony Banks; his melodicism, his understatedness, his lyricism, and his use of timbre. There’s a time and a place for flashiness and there’s a time and place for subtlety. THEO is a manifestation of that belief. It should be about the song first, putting that song within a certain atmosphere, and then exploring.

THEO‘s intrepid and dynamic music is paired with auspicious lyrical themes of corporatization, consumerism, loss of innocence, exile, and the obsession with celebrity. Lead vocals are handled by Alfredson himself. Usually relegated to background duties, Alfredson‘s surprisingly flexible baritone voice shifts from soaring muscularity to intimate falsetto and everything between. “I think that may be the most notable aspect of this project for my long time fans,” says Alfredson. “Those that know me only as an instrumentalist and background singer will hopefully be pleasantly surprised.

THEO is scheduled for a November 17th, 2014 release on Big O Records.

www.theoHQ.com?

https://www.facebook.com/pages/THEO/656605707769844

THEO – Game of Ouroborus (excerpt)

Here is an excerpt from the first song on the album of my new progressive rock project, THEO.

Featuring myself on keys and vocals, Gary Davenport on Chapman stick, Kevin Depree on drums and background vocals, and Jake Reichbart on rhythm guitar. Special guest Zach Zunis plays lead guitar on this cut. This is about half of the song; it fades out at the beginning of the middle section, before the reprise.

THEO is a project I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and is, in many ways, a return to my roots. I grew up listening to Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, ELP, The Beatles, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and many more progressive bands, as I discussed in this previous article. And I still love that music and the textures and emotions it encapsulates.

Please consider becoming a fan on FB via this link:

THEO Facebook Fan Page

Also sign-up to the newsletter on the official THEO website.

THEO Official Website

I will be launching a crowd-funding campaign soon for the release of this project. Thank you for your continued support!

John Patton’s Birthday

In honor of Big John Patton’s birthday (b. July 12th, 1935), here is the entire 90 minute DVD I included as a bonus to some of my Kickstarter backers for the Dirty Fingers – A Tribute To Big John Patton project.

Big John Patton was a big inspiration on my playing and I’m very proud of this record. It is the only tribute album for him of which I’m aware. Enjoy and please subscribe to my YouTube channel.