If you took a bow and arrow and aimed straight for a pop jazz hit, you couldn't come much closer to a bull's-eye than guitarist Steve Laury probably will with his new album "Stepping Out."
Laury, who left Fattburger last month to pursue a solo career, wrote all nine songs, which showcase a guitarist whose flair for painting austere but emotionally charged sound scapes will undoubtedly spark critical comparisons to fellow fret man Larry Carlton.
If you listen to KIFM, you've heard Laury's music. He wrote several of Fattburger's radio hits, including "Almost an Angel" and "Dreamer" from last year's "Come and Get It" album.
"At least now when I write music, and it gets airplay, I get some credit," Laury said. "For years, it was a little frustrating when an anonymous hamburger got credit."
Laury, 37, cites Wes Montgomery, Jimi Hendrix and early Eric Clapton as influences. Montgomery's contribution is most apparent--Laury frequently delivers melodies and improvisations in pairs of notes an octave apart, the way Montgomery did.
The album is a San Diego project all around. Laury is backed by San Diegans Rob Whitlock on keyboards and bass, Duncan Moore on drums and percussion and Kevin Hennessy on bass, and the album was recorded at Signature Sound studio here.
Laury's deal with the Japanese-owned Denon label came after a stroke of good fortune. He is a good friend of Jennifer Phelps, a former San Diegan who moved to New York in 1989 to take a job in promotions at Denon. When she called Laury to ask about the possibility of signing Fattburger to Denon, the band already had a three-album contract with Enigma.
Instead, Laury offered up his own demo. Phelps was enthused, sent it to Denon, and Kozo Watanabe, Denon's A&R; man, was so excited he wanted to fax Laury a contract the same day. Laury held out for legal advice, and his patience paid off with a three-album deal.
The first of the three was released in the United States this month, but it came out in Japan last October and has won critical raves there. Ad Lib, a Japanese music magazine, voted it one of the 10 best albums of the year, and it was also honored with an award for producing and engineering alongside albums by Quincy Jones and Patti Austin.
Last week, Laury was already recording his follow-up album, "Passion," at Signature Sound, with composing, engineering and musical assistance from localsinger/multi-instrumentalist/Checkfield band member Ron Satterfield.
You probably won't get a chance to hear Laury much in local clubs. He thinks Fattburger plays them too much.
"You have to be careful playing in San Diego," he explained. "What can happen is, you get comfortable playing here, and you end up playing in small clubs where there's no cover charge. But you get your best mileage when you play concerts and reach 500 or more people."
Laury and his former Fattburger band mates agreed that the split was amicable. Fattburger used San Diego guitarist Kiko Cibrian for a tour of the Midwest last month but hasn't decided on Laury's permanent replacement. "Come and Get It" topped contemporary jazz charts late last year, and Kevin Koch, Fattburger's drummer, said the group hopes the album will outsell its predecessor, "Time Will Tell." That album is approaching 60,000 in sales, respectable for a young band.
In San Diego, Fattburger plays small clubs, but the group drew a nearly full house to a 2,000-seat auditorium in Raleigh, N.C., last month.
Capitol Records, which recently acquired Fattburger's label, has decided not to pick up an option on the band's next album, and the group is shopping for a new label.
Some longtime fans of authentic Big Band music turn up their noses at the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Weaned on Ellington and Basie's sophisticated composing and arranging and incredible band lineups, they find it hard to get excited about the man whose trademarks were relatively square tunes like "Everybody Loves My Baby," "Little Brown Jug" and "Tuxedo Junction."
Miller disappeared without a trace in a plane over the English Channel in 1944, but his band stayed together until 1950, before breaking up for six years. In 1956, the first of various reincarnations of his band came together for the movie "The Glenn Miller Story," starring Jimmy Stewart.
The latest version plays San Diego at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Scottish Rite Center in Mission Valley, and current band leader Larry O'Brien, a trombonist with lengthy Big Band experience, believes Miller's legacy is underrated.
"Back in those days, the top bands didn't sound that much different," O'Brien said, when asked how Miller's band stacked up against Basie and Ellington's. "Glenn did quite a bit of the things that were considered swing. Radio announcers used to introduce him as an ace arranger and one of the foremost proponents of the swing trombone. I think his bands stand up very well with the rest of the swing bands of that time. Because they had so much commercial success, people downplayed the jazz side of it, but he had some very fine jazz players."
In 1941, Miller's band was especially hot, selling millions of hit singles including more than a million of "Chattanooga Choo Choo," which received the first gold record ever awarded. Over the years, the orchestra included top players such as cornet man Bobby Hackett, clarinetist Willie Schwartz, baritone saxophonist Ernie Casares, tenor saxmen Tex Beneke, and Al Klink and trumpeter Billy May.
O'Brien was only 11 when Miller died. He played with the Miller band for the first time in the 1960s and is now in his second go-round as leader. It's a full-time job.
"We tour constantly, 49 1/2 weeks a year," said O'Brien, a veteran of Las Vegas show bands, a variety of Big Bands and sideman work with Frank Sinatra Jr.
RIFFS: Veteran be-bop trumpeter Red Rodney opens five nights at Elario's on Wednesday. Rodney replaced Miles Davis in Charlie Parker's 1949 quintet and later overcame drug addiction to continue his long, productive career. Rodney will be joined by 20-year-old phenom Chris Potter on tenor sax and backed by San Diegan Bob Magnusson on bass and Los Angelenos Sherman Ferguson on drums and Frank Strazzeri on piano. . .
After a few months off from music, multi-instrumentalist Turiya returns tonight for a show at the Marquis Public Theater featuring fellow multi-instrumentalist Dave Millard and vocalist Carlotta Hernandez. The music will showcase Hernandez's robust voice on a variety of Mexican folk songs and American popular and jazz standards. . . .
San Diego saxman Rod Cradit spearheads the jazz tonight from 6 to 9 at San Luis Downs Golf and Tennis Resort in Bonsall.