In an industry notorious for ego clashes, break ups over trivial artistic differences, and ever-evolving shifts in the public’s often fickle tastes, smooth jazz supergroup Fattburger–whose irresistible melodic blend of funk, blues, pop and Latin influences is often called “The Sound of San Diego”–has bucked the odds and stayed together for nearly fifteen years. Reflecting on the band’s longevity and ten best-selling recordings which have so perfectly epitomized the genre’s many charms, keyboardist Carl Evans, Jr. says, “The key is that we’ve always created music that’s satisfying and gratifying to us artistically, but also speaks clearly to the public. Listeners and fans recognize that we are a true band with team spirit and synergy, and they’re always eager to hear what we have to say.”
The band keeps the flow going into the new millennium with their fourth Shanachie release Fattburger.com, whose tongue-in-cheek title is not only a nod towards the modern age, but also a reminder to fans that there is finally a Fattburger website in cyberspace. Anyone who has faithfully followed the band’s career since 1986’s One of a Kind knows its members have a great sense of humor, often poking playful fun at the name by incorporating edible concepts into music that is truly delicious.
“Fortunately” Evans adds, “with five guys contributing, our creativity is like a river that never stops flowing. On the new album we take a look back on the music we were all inspired by in the 70s, while also stretching out into areas which define our future.”
This time, their tongues are still firmly in cheek working with the new theme, with tunes like the bouncy, swaying “You’ve Got Mail” (on which Evans trades off the lead melody line with Hollis Gentry’s gentle soprano sax) and “Groove Y2K,” a bluesy fusion jam featuring a fiery duet between Evan Marks’ edgy and rockin’ guitar lines and Tommy Aros’ vibrant percussion spice. And yet within all the frolic lies a poignant message of hope with the graceful Evans penned titles “Joy” (featuring Gentry again on sax) and “Peace of Mind” (with Gentry’s flute soaring right along with Evans’ synth lines). Looking back to the band’s influences, Fattburger.com also features the retro soul flavors of “No Problem,” “Fender,” and the aggressive, hard rocking closing track “Nice Bits,” with Evans jamming on Rhodes and the Wurlitzer over Marks’ blistering rock energy.
Drummer Kevin Koch says that Fattburger has always enjoyed the challenge of diversity, keeping their eye simultaneously on the demands of the marketplace and their own desires to give fans the kind of adventurous, improvisational spirit they present in the live setting. “Our goal is always to bring new ideas to the table and try out new sounds, to take rough demos and find a way to bring them to a whole new level. Tommy and I are always given leeway in building grooves that often take us in unexpected directions. Even when we’re doing a cover tune like the new album’s “Same Ole Love,” we’re giving it that trademark Fattburger texture which people can recognize. Sometimes we’re aiming straight for radio, and other times, we get more aggressive to give (bassist) Mark Hunter a chance to groove and Evans a chance to jam.”
Considering each member’s diverse musical resume prior to forming the band, perhaps it’s no surprise that there’s always been such an impressive array of jazz, R&B, Latin and rock influences in Fattburger’s music. Evans has backed Barry White, Stevie Wonder and Cannonball Adderly; Koch with Herbie Mann and Dave Valentin; Hunter with be-bop greats Clark Terry and Eddie Harris; and Aros with Freddie Hubbard, Al Di Miola and Luis Miguel. Marks joined the band in the early ’90s.
While Fattburger’s music has become a universalbeacon and ambassador for smooth jazz everywhere, natives of San Diego — where the band debuted at the Triton Club in the mid-80s and has long resided — have no trouble selfishly claiming the guys as a matter of civic pride. In reality, however, only Aros is a native. Evans grew up in America’s Finest City, but is originally from Portsmouth, VA; Koch is from Manitowoc, WI; Hunter is from Detroit and Marks is from Cleveland.
Fattburger.com (the website, not the album) proudly declares that the proper response to the question “What is the essence of smooth jazz?” is the Fattburger catalog in its entirety. These recordings — all charting big at radio and rising high on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz charts — include One of a Kind (1986, later re-issued on SinDrome in 1993); their breakthrough Good News (1987); Living in Paradise (a nod to their life in San Diego, 1988); Tim e Will Tell (1989); Come and Get It (1990); On a Roll (1993); Living Large (their Shanachie debut, 1995); All Natural Ingredients (1996); and Sugar (1998). Selected tracks from most of these albums are offered for downloading in the CD Gallery , along with tour and biographies of the members (coming soon).
While Fattburger.com (the album) keeps the band on its always evolving artistic roll and is a harbinger of the kind of music we might expect from the band in the future, the dawn of 2000 gives Evans pause to reflect upon what the whole experience has meant to the band. “I have to say, I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve stayed together and that no matter what’s come up, we’re always looking out for each other, keeping our friendship and the joy of music ahead of all other concerns. It’s been a pleasure having the opportunity to touch our fans through music, and to leave a nice little musical legacy which will hopefully outlive us.” January 2000