Kurzweil / Weisersound endorsement and the new Hammond XK5

Hi friends,

It’s hard to keep this site updated especially since the last few months have been a whirlwind of activity, for which I am incredibly grateful. The summer brought shows in Texas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Chicago, Quebec, and Ontario with Laura Rain & The Caesars as well as the Ottawa Blues Festival with Thornetta Davis. organissimo played several festivals in Michigan including the unCaged Festival in Northport and the Shoreline Jazz Festival in Muskegon. We also released and new CD in September called Live At The SpeakEZ (that’s two new organissimo CDs in 2017). This fall I was in Belgium for a few short days for two shows with Big Apple Blues and we’re finishing up a new record with that group as well. And I did a handful of other recording, mixing and mastering sessions as well.

On the gear front, I am proud to announce an endorsement with Kurzweil Music Systems and Weisersound. I am using a Kurzweil Forte 7 on stage and in the studio and I absolutely love it. It is an extremely beautiful keyboard, built like a tank, with an easy to use interface, great sounds, lots of room for your own sounds and samples, and more. Here are a couple of demo videos I made, the second one featuring THEO drummer Kevin DePree.

Contact David Weiser at Weisersound for your Forte and get VIP support, free custom patches, and the best customer service on the planet. He’s a personal friend and a great person.

Also, I am now the proud owner of the new flagship from Hammond Organ USA, the Hammond XK5. I will be with Hammond in their booth at the 2018 Winter NAMM show in January demonstrating the XK5 and all it can do. I plan on making a custom tonewheel set for it, as I’ve done with previous Hammond models. And expect some video demos as well in the near future. Here’s a brief live-stream I did on Facebook on the day I received the XK5 last week. The sound quality of FB live-streams isn’t so great, but you can get a feel of how it sounds. That’s the internal digital Leslie simulator, by the way.

This winter I will be heading to NYC for some recording sessions but mostly staying in Michigan, working on the upcoming sophomore THEO album, another Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers album, and the album that Lawrence Barris and I did with the legendary drummer Harvey Mason (Herbie Hancock, Bob James, George Benson, etc). Speaking of Mr. Mason, we are performing with him on December 11th at the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids, MI.

Harvey Mason Wealthy

My event calendar is updated through December so you can see where I’ll be if you want to make a show. Happy Holidays and be safe this season!

organissimo takes 2016

We’re almost ready to begin post-production and mixing on the new organissimo album which is a tribute to the Beatles. Here’s a full-length song from the upcoming CD.

For this recording in my humble home studio, I’m using my beloved 1954 Hammond C2 through a 1956 Leslie 21H. The Leslie is miked with a pair of heavily modified TNC ACM-6082 tube condensers in a Blumlein pair on top and an Electro-Voice RE20 on the bottom.

One thing yet to finish is a version of Within You Without You. In preparing for this CD, I asked my elder sister (who is responsible for a lot of my musical tastes) for her favorite Beatles song and she answered with that psychedelic, classical Indian inspired cut from the seminal Sgt Pepper’s album. I’ve decided to do something a little different with it, however, instead of a straight organ trio live studio performance.

synthesizers.com modular

synthesizers.com modular

First I had drummer Randy Marsh play the iconic drum groove from Tomorrow Never Knows off the Beatles’ Revolver album. I absolutely adored this album as a kid and listened to it over and over again. Next I looped an 8 bar snippet from Randy’s performance to create a hypnotic almost electronic drum track. Next I will craft a tambura-esque patch on the mighty synthesizers.com modular as the drone. Then I will play the melody on organ, but with a surprise twist (to be revealed later). And finally I’ll bring Larry in to add some guitar pyrotechnics over the top. So like the Beatles, we will be constructing this piece in the studio, using the studio as another instrument.

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If you’re intrigued, head over to organissimo.org and sign up for the email list to receive notifications of the album’s release and other newsworthy items. I should mention we’re also working on a live CD and video and another entire CD of original material. Here’s an example of that.

In the meantime, I’m also finishing up mixing for Big Apple Blues’ new album, writing and recording new material for the upcoming follow-up to my progressive rock debut THEO, and I’ll be playing shows this spring and summer in Belgium, Hong Kong, Chicago, and of course all over my home state of Michigan!

See you on the road!

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.

jimandjaniva

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?

theo_cover

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

FabFilter Pro-Q 2

I don’t recall how I stumbled upon FabFilter. Most likely I was searching for alternatives to the much pricier Sonnox plug-ins, specifically the Oxford EQ. Somewhere in the mire of forums and blogs I ran across the Pro-Q and decided to try the demo. I remember I bought it almost instantly. The single most important factor in that decision was the beautiful GUI. The idea of combining a spectrum analyzer and an incredibly simple user interface was novel to me.

That was in 2012. In the two years since, I’ve also purchased many of FabFilter’s other plug-ins, including the Pro-L, Pro-MB, Pro-C, Pro-DS, Pro-G, Saturn, and Twin 2. I have used them on every project I’ve done since, including organissimo’s Dedicated, Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers, my upcoming progressive rock project THEO, Greg Nagy’s upcoming third album, and various other mixes and songs for other artists. The Pro-C is the first compressor I load for drum parallel compression and bass guitar. The Pro-DS is an amazing de-esser that I use on all vocal tracks. The Pro-G is an amazingly flexible gate that can sound completely natural. I love it on toms. And the Saturn is a great saturation plug-in that I like to use on VST synthesizers, especially analog emulators, to give them more depth, character, and girth.

Out of all of them, the plug-in I use the most is the Pro-Q. And I’ve been immensely happy with it. I didn’t think it could be improved but FabFilter managed to do just that in version 2. Dan Worrell’s fantastic video tutorial gives a solid overview of the new features.

The new features include:

  • Different interface sizes and additional Full Screen mode
  • Operates in zero latency mode, linear phase mode with adjustable latency or the unique Natural Phase mode
  • Spectrum Grab: just grab and adjust a peak in the real-time spectrum analyzer right away!
  • Filter shapes: Bell, Notch, High/Low Shelf, High/Low Cut, Band Pass, Tilt Shelf
  • Universal filter slope support for all filter types, up to 96 dB/oct
  • EQ Match feature to automatically match the spectrum of another track via the side-chain input
  • Phase Invert option to change polarity
  • Highly improved CPU optimization: Pro-Q 2 uses less memory and is more than twice as efficient as its predecessor!
  • Optional Gain-Q interaction
  • Auto Gain and Gain Scale
  • Built-in spectrum analyzer with Pre-EQ, Post-EQ and SC modes, adjustable range, speed, resolution, tilt and freeze
  • GPU-powered graphics acceleration
  • Optional piano roll display to quantize EQ frequencies to musical notes
  • Large output level meter with peak level readout

This is a significant update and well worth the very reasonable upgrade cost. I’ve already upgraded and integrated the new version into my work flow. The new Natural Phase mode is really amazing for adding air to individual tracks or the overall mix. Spectrum Grab is incredibly useful for quick fixes and taming resonances. And the piano roll frequency display saves a lot of time.

FabFilter still has the best GUI in the business and the easiest user interface. With the added features, it just became more useful and quick. If you’re looking for something better than your DAW’s native EQ, check out the Pro-Q 2.

FabFilter Pro-Q 2

FabFilter Pro-Q 2

 Postscript: I read an interesting article about the differences between digital (aka plug-in) EQs. Essentially once you strip away the analog emulations, there really is no difference. Some plug-in EQs also attempt to emulate the non-linear behavior of analog circuitry including harmonic distortion, noise, etc. And those emulations do vary from plug-in to plug-in. But once removed, the basic sound is the same and even those characteristics can be successfully duplicated with a standard PEQ with a bit of tweaking and good ears and maybe a saturation plug-in inserted before or after. So with that said, why spend money on something like Pro-Q 2? Well, the Natural Phase mode is an analog emulation that does what it is supposed to do very well. But first and foremost, it’s about ease of use. The GUI is so good and the interface so easy to work with that the price is more than reasonable. For most purposes, I can achieve the same results with the built-in track EQ in Cubase but it is nowhere near as intuitive or easy to use, despite the recent addition of a per-track real-time spectrum analyzer.

Why Crowd-Funding is essential in the Internet Age

NOTE: I originally published this on my Facebook page on May 11, 2013 while in the middle of my second Kickstarter campaign for Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers – A Tribute To Big John Patton. It was looking quite bleak for that campaign but thankfully, with the support of music-lovers and jazz fans, we pulled through. I wrote this piece in response to many private messages and emails I received from musicians, fans, and friends. The theme running through all the messages was some variant of “Why are you resorting to crowd-funding? Isn’t that begging?”

I thought I would post this piece here to hopefully gain more exposure to the thoughts within and begin a dialogue.

NOTE 2: I’m currently running my fourth crowdfunding campaign for the latest organissimo album entitled “B3tles – A Soulful Tribute to the Fab Four”. It is happening here.

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As of this writing, my second Kickstarter project is about halfway to the finish line. Unfortunately it is also behind in terms of reaching my funding goals. I realize my last project was only six months ago (the very successful CD “Dedicated” by organissimo) and I also realize that, like last time, I’m asking for quite a tidy sum of money. I’d like to take a moment to explain why I’m asking for that amount but more importantly why crowd-funding is so important to independent, niche musicians like myself, using my last successful project as an example.

Word Cloud "Crowd Funding"

The Kickstarter for organissimo’s “Dedicated” reached it’s funding goal of $12,000 on October 15th, a full two days ahead of schedule. It finished slightly above the goal at $12,275.  Kickstarter and Amazon (who processed the payments) each took 5% right off the top.  So that left us with $11,047. I tracked and mixed the album myself, spending $274.50 on a suite of plug-ins for my DAW. That is the only money that I personally received from the campaign for my role in the production of the CD. Not only did I perform on the disc, write songs for the disc, engineer the disc in my home studio (with gear that I purchased myself), and spend countless hours fixing and mixing the audio, but I also did all the promotion for the crowdfunding campaign, handled the management of the Kickstarter, updated the websites, contacted the photographer, graphic designer, radio promoter, and mastering engineer, scheduled all those folks to do their thing, processed the payment for all those folks, contacted press people, and generally oversaw every little aspect of making the campaign and then the CD a reality. And I did not pay myself one cent for any of this except for buying those plug-ins in order to be able to mix the audio. I literally spent hours and hours and hours putting this CD together and I did not receive any money except to buy those plug-ins.

Drummer Randy Marsh did not receive any money either. Guitarist Ralph Tope was paid a small severance package when he left the band in order to protect the group’s rights to the music (which ate up the “extra” money I had calculated into the budget).

Indeed, I actually spent hundreds of dollars of my own money on postage, after the post office either lost or delivered half-empty packages to over half the people who purchased the “organissimo box set” as part of the Kickstarter. The budget was so tight that by the time the packages were lost, there was no more money to mail new ones and so I picked up the cost myself. The post office also raised prices on international shipments by 200% and I had to eat those costs as well.

Which brings me to my next crux of the biscuit: Why is crowd-funding so important?

Within one week of organissimo’s Dedicated being released it was available on blogs and torrent sites on the internet for free.

organissimo - Dedicated (BIG O 2418)

organissimo – Dedicated (BIG O 2418)

You can go find it right now with a simple Google search. In fact, you can find every single organissimo album for free with a simple Google search. I hope you don’t, but if you want to, you can.

This is not by choice.

In the digital age, musicians no longer have any control over how their product is distributed. This is why we must receive money up front to record the music.  Waiting until after it is released is foolish and financially ruinous for independent artists like us. And that means we need you, the fans, to step up and help us make it happen. You are vitally important to the process. You are essentially our label. Without you, we have no viable way to record and release music.

The last four organissimo CDs cost about the same to produce as the goal of the Kickstarter: between $10,000 and $12,000.  I was able to curb a lot of that by tracking and mixing Dedicated myself and so we spent the money not used on studio time for promotion. One thing I’ve learned as an independent musician is the importance of promotion. Most musicians don’t like to talk about themselves and their art, but the truth is if you’re not going to promote yourself, who is?  But merely talking about yourself can only take you so far.

The great thing about the modern age of digital technology is that anyone can make an album. The horrible thing about the modern age of digital technology is that anyone can make an album. Radio stations (especially college stations and those that play Americana, jazz, blues, etc.) are absolutely inundated with hundreds upon hundreds of CDs every month. They simply cannot take the time to listen to them all. The same is true of music writers. You must have a gatekeeper, someone they trust, who they know will only send good stuff, in order for them to take the time to check out your project. You need a trusted radio promoter and a trusted publicist.

Without promotion, Dedicated would’ve done nothing. With radio promotion it was able to hit #5 on the national jazz charts, #2 on the college jazz charts, and has lead to more sales and more opportunities for the band. Promotion is immensely important and that’s why over 30% of the Kickstarter budget for Dedicated was for promotion.

But that promotion doesn’t come cheap.

Before crowdfunding, we would personally go into debt every time we recorded an album. It would literally take years to pay that off. As file sharing becomes easier and more prevalent, it takes longer and longer to pay off that debt. Our first disc took 2 years to pay off. The second 3 years. The third 4 years. The pattern is clear.

THEO - The Game Of Ouroboros

THEO – The Game Of Ouroboros – Successfully crowdfunded in 2015.

And so, to answer the question “Why is crowd-funding so important?” It is important because it is no longer financially feasible to go into debt to produce an album. And that is because of file-sharing. The only way to guarantee that I’ll be able to make an album is to secure financing up front. And that’s where you, the fans, come into play.  If you want the music to be made, you have to support it on the front end. Give me your pledge of support up front and I will produce the music for you to enjoy. That’s my promise to you.

I hope I can count on your support in my musical endeavours. I hope my music and my gear reviews and my advice and expertise when it comes to all things Hammond is valuable to you. Beyond the current crowdfunding campaign (http://bit.ly/2elcnGU) I am currently working on a progressive rock project of all original material (with me singing!) that is reminscent of the 70’s keyboard-centered prog, but not derivative thereof. (UPDATE: This project has been successfully crowdfunded and released as THEO- The Game of Ouroboros.) I also have several project by good friends that I am producing / engineering / consulting on and many many more ideas up in this crazy head of mine. If you know me, you know the music is going to be great regardless. Thank you for reading and thank you for caring about independent artists like myself.

—-Jim Alfredson

organissimo’s Dedicated #25 on JazzWeek Top 100 of 2013

organissimo’s Dedicated came in at #25 on JazzWeek’s Top 100 of 2013 chart. The chart is based on airplay nationwide on JazzWeek affiliated stations.

Top25

 

I am very proud and humbled to be listed among some truly great artists. If you haven’t picked up a copy of Dedicated yet, please consider doing so.

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