Jim Alfredson’s subterranean grooves keep local jazz alive


That hypnotic paneling. The masculine tangle of wires on a creamy shag carpet. The duct tape on the drum kit. The five clocks standing sentinel on the windowsill.

We missed so much when we went to jazzman Jim Alfredson’s in-person gigs.

Who knew that nestled in his basement, wedged into a V-shaped double stack of keyboards, the surgically funky organist even looks like a needle in a subterranean groove?

As the coronavirus dries up live gigs for musicians of all stripes, Alfredson has moved the jazz and blues party online, streaming live gigs to his well-equipped home studio. Last week, he recruited a rotating cast of top local musicians, including Alfredson’s own organ trio, Organissimo.

Monday’s lockdown order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put a stop to any collective jams — it’s a small basement — but Alfredson plans to play solo gigs in the coming weeks and bring the combos back as soon as possible.

Hundreds of listeners have tuned in to Alfredson’s aural comfort food, allowing him to pay his musicians “handsomely,” he said.

“This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but current circumstances make it mandatory,” Alfredson explained Saturday.

The music has unleashed a puppy-soft onslaught of reassuring licks and some unexpectedly emotional moments. Saturday night, guitarist Greg Nagy and drummer Glen Giordano mixed straight-up blues with moody originals like “I’ll Know I’m Ready,” a slow breakup ballad.

Alfredson’s Hammond B-3 can burn the house down, basement and all, but he gently filled the space between Nagy’s expressive lyrics and acoustic chords with a swelling sigh that left a lot of space — just right for a song about emptiness.

“We just want to send our love to everyone that’s listening,” Alfredson told listeners Saturday. “We hope everyone’s OK.”

“Long Way to Memphis” featured a nobly bruised Nagy solo, each note snapping like a bullet torn flag.

For a finale, the trio outdid themselves with a heartfelt, gripping cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”

Sunday night, Alfredson’s crack B-3 organ trio, Organissimo, took some 170 listeners on one hip-swaying, deep-breathing stroll after another.

The drifted through a spacious, lyrical cover of the Beatles’ “And I Love Her” and followed it up with a revival-meeting take on “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Alfredson’s rare combination of musical acumen, bottomless soul and technological know-how makes him ideally suited to seize this strange hour and connect isolated musicians with their isolated listeners.

Now that he’s got a few streamed gigs under his belt, he’s already looking for ways to improve them, by adding LED stand lights for a better view and leaving more “headroom” in the sound mix to capture the surprising excitement the gigs are generating.

The live streams have a personal touch that leap over the quarantine barrier, especially for local listeners. Nationally, Organissimo secured its niche among the best combos of its kind years ago, but in Lansing they are practically next-door neighbors. At Sunday’s Organissimo gig, “Zora the Kid,” a sweet midtempo walk by guitarist Lawrence Barris dedicated to Alfredson’s daughter, evoked simpler joys and simpler times and seemed to promise the same, someday. “Play Room,” an Alfredson tune full of happy hops and bumps, was inspired by his kids’ playroom when they were tykes. The unseen presence, and camera expertise, of artist Alison Alfredson, Jim’s wife, added to the family feeling.

“This is the play room now,” Alfredson said, looking around him.

Without underscoring the gravity of the situation, it’s clear the gigs are helping Alfredson and his colleagues keep it together, as professional musicians and human beings.

“Not being able to do what we do is like not being human,” Alfredson said.

Visit Facebook.com/LiveFromJimmysBasement to keep track of Alfredson's livestreams.

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