By Ossie Bladine • Editor • 

Making his debut

McMinnville native Chris Lay got to captain a full band on stage last week — a new experience.

On Friday, Lay fronted a seven-piece ensemble at the Secret Society to celebrate the release of his debut studio album, “Point Her To The Sun.”

Now making his home in Portland, Lay previously recorded a set of tracks on his own that streamed on his website.

“Over time, I sounded so different, I never finished the album,” he said. “But they served their purpose.” 

The singer-songwriter, who grew up a drummer and received a degree in jazz studies, usually performs in a duo or trio. And he plans to do just that Saturday night at the Horse Radish in Carlton, teaming with Chris Chard on bass and Joe Hall on guitar. He plays the drums for a number of groups as well, including The Max Ribner Band, The Sale, Tim Snider & Sound Society and Mother Bunch.

“We all give each other opportunities,” Lay said of the Portland area music community. “We play everything with everybody.” 

A family gift allowed him to take the next step in his career as a singer-songwriter.

On the Christmas after his grandmother died, his parents, musicians themselves, gave him a letter with a picture of a CD and the words: “Make a full and complete CD with you and your friends. Love, Mom, Dad and Grandma.” They went on to invite him to fund his debut album with money left by his grandmother.

The band was assembled from musicians Lay has played with or heard since he began to focus on a musical career a few years ago. They come from a variety of backgrounds and represent a variety of musical genres.

Having a strong supporting cast allowed Lay’s solo work to reach new heights. He describes the result as “a collection of musings, describing the familiar, pondering the indescribable, and sharing ... humble wisdom through organic instrumentation and plain honesty.”

His nine tunes run the gamut of neo-soul and jazz-pop. Each track has its own pleasant cadence, whether somber and reflective like “Impact” and “More Than Just at Night,” or playful like “Screen Door” and “Fine Place.”

The professional production led to a new listening experience for both Lay and his fans.

“What I find most often when listening to the earlier recordings is that all I could hear were the imperfections,” he said. “What I am hearing now is the quality of musicians I have on the album, and they are just blowing me away.”

The confidence he gained set the stage for the release party.

“In earlier days, I was so particular how it would sound,” Lay said. “As I matured, I realized, if you get the right players, you can have your way with the music and have them take it even further.”

The trio will play from 7 to 10 p.m. in its Saturday appearance at the Horse Radish.

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