The Lowrey Rialto is available White, as well as in the more traditional finishes of oak or mahogany. The white finish goes well with the brushed silver panels, so it will be interesting to see if it does best in the white or in the other options. It is typical of Lowrey that, as well as being fairly straightforward to use, the Rialto has retained popular sounds and features from previous models, making owners of older models very comfortable with the new one as soon as they try it and, for all of us, it is simple to make a nice sound when we first sit down to play.
It has two 61-note keyboards and 20 Bass Pedals, silver bass pedals on the one I tried! Something of note is that despite the 20 pedals, a redesigned Expression Pedal has allowed it to be mounted fairly low down, so it is in a more comfortable position than earlier ones from all manufacturers on their 20-note pedalboards, where they would sit well above the pedalboard. The vertical stop panels actually are slightly sloped so that it is easy to see all of the well labelled controls when you sit at the console. It comes with a second music desk that brings the music a little nearer to you if you prefer that. We’ll come back to the lovely full sounds, the styles and the presets in a minute because first of all I want to explain a new feature, or I should say, a much improved feature, Fake It.
When this first appeared on the top Lowrey organs a couple of years ago, turning on Fake It changed the Upper Keyboard so that, irrespective of which key you pressed, it would play a jazz improvisation based upon the chord you were playing, with the notes sounding in the rhythm of any key you played on the Upper manual, for the length of time you played the key, so you set the pace but chose the notes!
This made for some interesting variations and, whilst limited in its use, was fun now and then. Fake It has now developed in a couple of ways. First of all, you can tie it in with the rhythm unit so that you no longer have to play any keys on the Upper. With a Style playing, you continue to play your chords and pedals and it will make up a jazz improvisation based upon your harmonies but rhythmically fitting in with the Style. This can give you an effective jazz chorus.
The Rialto has a lower keyboard split and, as well as using Fake It on the Upper, once you have used the keyboard split you can also use it on the Lower Right section. This means you can have two different instruments each playing improvisations in time to the Style but following your harmony, so you may perhaps fancy a Dixieland Jazz chorus with a Trumpet and a Clarinet doodling away, or a gentle jazz improvisation using Piano and Sax. It really does work well, though you do of course have to accept that for that time it is making up the jazz whilst you just give basic steering from the harmonies. There is another new way of using Fake It, which is the one that I think is perhaps the most useful and we’ll come back to in just a minute!
You may remember that quite a few Lowrey organs in recent years have had the Virtuoso Keyboard. This is a sort of plastic strip that provides a mini-keyboard mounted just above the Upper manual. It has most typically been used to provide nice glissandos on perhaps a Harp or something similar, with the player able to key it precisely when it was wanted.
The Virtuoso Keyboard now can be set to work in conjunction with the Fake It feature, so you can play the upper keyboard properly and then when you touch the keys on the Virtuoso Keyboard they play the jazz improvisation notes. This is really good if you have a melody with perhaps long boring notes at the end of phrases and you aren’t sure quite what to play to create an interesting musical Fill In, as you can add in an interesting Fake It improvisation at the pace you choose with the Virtuoso Keyboard and this works well whether you’re playing perhaps jazz or even very orchestral music, as you choose the sound that plays it.
I hope this description doesn’t make it sound very complicated, as it really isn’t when you do it, it’s really easy and very effective and I think lots of owners will enjoy using these combined features to add in interesting twiddly-bits in such a simple way.
As you would expect from Lowrey, this organ makes a big rich sound, in fact, a huge rich sound. Apparently it has new speakers, new amplification and different equalisation settings, all of which have served to deliver a really impressive result. Another improvement comes from the fact that there is now Reverb on the Styles, which they experimented with not having with a previous model, but I definitely prefer it now it is back!
These days organs and keyboards have so many sounds that it seems irrelevant to list them in the way we would have done years ago when sound palettes were far more limited. As you’d expect, this organ has pretty much every sound you can imagine (I think there are 452 of them) and the voicing is very good. Some people seem to have not yet realised that as well as their great traditional organ sounds, Lowreys now also have a full range of convincing orchestral sounds and, used well, they can sound every bit as orchestral as any of the other brands and, because they produce such warm tones, some of the big string sounds are in fact far more convincing than some other, thinner sounding brands, and the amount of voice layering available can deliver some powerful full orchestras. The individual voices also work well and often using a solo voice is testament to the old saying that less is more!
There is a separate volume control for each section, including for the Flute and String tabs, and the voice sections have individual repeat and effects, things like delay and tremolo, so it gives a lot of flexibility. There is also a very quick to use Voice Edit facility, allowing you to change things like Attack, Sustain and Brightness. Lowreys have long been packed with good preset voices to help you with finding the right registration and the Rialto is no exception to this. As well as many retained from earlier models, they have also added in some more new ones, including some quite good theatre organ presets, which have very convincing sounds for the manuals but have retained a more typical electronic organ bass, which makes them easier to play but, for a purist like me, is a shame!
There are also loads of backing Styles, 306 of them, all fully orchestrated with multiple layers of backing band and coming with preset registrations that are suitable to use with them.
Many years ago, Lowrey were the first to offer us fully orchestrated backing Styles and they have continued to develop better and better ones, allowing them to have far larger loops than most manufacturers so, for example, there’s one called Snow Wing which is for the Anne Murray 1970 hit song Snowbird. When you use the Fill-In it actually plays a 42 bar long Fill-In (probably the wrong term for it in this context really) which plays all of the string orchestra backing parts for the second time around the tune. This sounds really great, so long as you stay in time with it.
To get an idea of the Styles I had an expert show me some of his favourites and some of the more popular ones. Beyond The Sea is for the fabulous big band hit of the same name, was it Bobby Darin, I think so. It has a proper big band intro and then a backing with piano and strings and melody sounds set to things like big strings and vocals.
Smiles is set for the song Smile, based on Charlie Chaplin’s music for his film Hard Times. It has a big String Orchestra introduction, with French Horns, and then sounds gorgeous using Mantovani style Strings with a long sustain on them. Of course, you don’t have to just use these styles and sounds for the suggested song, they will work for countless others. That said, Doris 3/4 is quite definitely for Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera, with a waltz backing just like the original and nice with the Strings and Clarinet.
Petula Clark has been on the TV and Radio a fair bit recently to promote the launch of her new album, From Now On. I heard her on Radio 2 with Michael Ball at the end of October and she was singing wonderfully whilst, at the same time, accompanying herself by playing the Grand Piano. This is all the more remarkable as she is just about to have her 84th birthday. Anyway, the Lowrey looks back to her hey-day with a style called Downtown, which starts off with a really driving Piano Intro and then has Brass and Vocal stabs and a strong variation to really give the essence of that marvellous hit song. One of my absolute favourite singers is the late Andy Williams and at the back end of last year it was a pleasure for us to meet with Jimmy Osmond, who now owns Andy’s famous Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri. At that time he was on tour with his older brothers, Jay and Merrill, in a show called the Andy Williams Christmas Spectacular, which was superb.
Anyway, all of this leads me to tell you of another fairly song specific Style on the Lowrey Rialto. Called Moon Stream 3/4, it sounds exactly like the backing Andy Williams had on his famous hit recording of Moon River. It’s lovely. If you’ve seen my reviews of other more recent Lowrey organs, you will know they have become very user friendly with the advent of things like the ‘Quick Picks’ option to select the most useful sounds by just pressing the sound you want on the screen and then pressing the stop in the section where you want to play it. The thousands and thousands of preset sound combinations, what Lowrey call ‘Setups,’ all gathered together in groups like Broadway, Theatre, Jazz and so on all work well and again make it quick and easy to sound good.
I feel sure you will enjoy the new Lowrey Rialto, the most impressive thing about it for me not being the ease of use or the number of Styles and Voices but just the fact that it feels of such good quality to play and makes such a high quality, rich sound.