With 'Soul Jazz Fridays,' Chris Hazelton's Boogaloo 7 Shakes Hips Unapologetically

Nov 22, 2016

Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7
Soul Jazz Fridays (Sunflower Soul Records)

“Hip Shaker,” the rapturously funky opening salvo of Soul Jazz Fridays, is an alluring welcome to a boisterous party. It’s a sound familiar to anyone who has stepped inside the Green Lady Lounge on a Friday evening in the past two years, one jubilantly captured on the new live album by Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7.

While Soul Jazz Fridays is an electrifying jolt of joy, there has been a bit of trouble in paradise.

In September, the jazz community was roiled by a cover story in The Pitch scrutinizing the scarcity of area jazz venues. Green Lady owner John Scott defended his policy of featuring musicians like Hazelton, who perform foot-tapping, tradition-oriented jazz, by expressing his distaste for “music that denies the need for an audience.”

He dismissed more adventurous styles as “jazz dick music.”

His comments struck a nerve. Scott’s venue in the Crossroads District employs more jazz musicians that any other institution in Kansas City, but his artistic mandate excludes many players.

Scott later apologized. “I regret making the comments that have led to insult, hurt feelings and division especially between musicians,” he said in response to a recap of the controversy on my jazz blog, Plastic Sax.

Even the musicians most incensed by Scott’s comments are loath to criticize Hazelton. An all-around nice guy, Hazelton possesses a cheerful temperament and an admirable dedication to his craft.

And unlike some members of the jazz community, the amenable young organist graciously tolerates the loud carousing of Friday-night revelers.

A more considerate audience cheered the instrumental septet during the recording session for Soul Jazz Fridays, which was actually on a Monday at the Green Lady last year. Its unimpeded sound reveals many of the tricks Hazelton picked up from his mentor Everette DeVan, the dean of Kansas City jazz organists.

Like DeVan, Hazelton is an enthusiastic revivalist of the classic era of organ jazz. He and his band mates — saxophonists Nick Rowland and Brett Jackson, trumpeter Nick Howell, guitarist Matt Hopper, percussionist Pat Conway and drummer Danny Rojas — recreate the feel of classic recordings such as Richard “Groove” Holmes’ 1967 album Super Soul. (The layout and fonts on the Soul Jazz Fridays cover even mimic the look of vintage Holmes albums.)

Just as Holmes recast popular hits of his day, Hazelton’s feisty arrangement of Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” matches the throwback tone of original Hazelton compositions such as “The Grand Avenue Get-Down.” The ensemble’s embrace of the Green Lady Lounge aesthetic works to its advantage: All seven men recognize that nurturing impeccably soulful grooves is more important than taking flashy solos.

When this celebratory album is playing, the recent controversy seems inconsequential. Soul Jazz Fridays conjures the sort of atmosphere the eminent philosopher James Brown once described as “a funky good time.”

Bill Brownlee’s writing appears weekly in The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine. He blogs about Kansas City’s jazz scene at Plastic Sax.