Learning to swing: Boogaloo group fills in the spaces

Like Cream, CSN&Y, or The Traveling Wilburys, Phatback Boogaloo is an all-star super-group, although of the homegrown variety. The four members of this jazz act all currently play in other well-known local groups– though these have a decidedly more rockish slant.

Ralph Edwards plays bass in the classic/modern rock group Betty Gone Bad, along with guitarist Jaye Urgo. Alto sax player Max Hoecker is a member of the amazing '70s soul-inspired Kimystery (I've mentioned my appreciation for their "long-lost '70s soul hits" writing style between these covers before), and Spencer Lathrop keeps the beat in the Guano Boys and the Hogwaller Ramblers.

Taking their name from the '60s Latin Jazz style known as Boogaloo, the group arose when Urgo suggested to Hoecker that they get together and "see if we could learn some jazz." After practicing tunes by "Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, and many others," the two took to rehearsing with Edwards and Lathrop at the latter's record store, Spencer's 206, after-hours.

Last Wednesday was the group's fourth performance at Dürty Nelly's, but already I could tell they had a little jazz following going. Urgo took the center position, Hoecker to his right, and a seated Edwards (who would intermittently look at the UVA-Duke game on the monitor above the group) was to his left. Immediately behind them and crammed in the corner of the stage was Lathrop, to the effect that you had to really try to catch a glimpse of the musical institution.

The group started out with saxophonist Cannonball Adderley's version of the song "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," which is an up-tempo poppy jazz tune with a verse-chorus-verse structure. As Urgo played the chords, Hoecker played the melody lines on his sax with a light airy feel.

Next up was Herbie Hancock's '60s hit "Cantaloupe Island," which to me sounded like the perfect meld of blues and pop. Urgo took to soloing in the middle, during which Hoecker mostly dropped out. The group's third song was an original called "Sweet Vanessa," a blues-type shuffle number with a tasty walking bass line.

The rest of the set featured numbers by Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as more originals. All were played with a relaxed feel, few mistakes, and just a general air of musicians having a good time-­ they were a delight to see.

One thing Urgo mentioned later was how much the group enjoyment playing at a lower volume than most of the members were used to­ I appreciated it, too, as it gave me a chance to talk to my date while I was digging the tunes.

Actually, Wednesday nights at Dürty Nelly's are perfect for couples early in the dating game-­ you can talk to each other at a normal volume if you want to, but rely on Phatback Boogaloo to make sure there are no uncomfortable silences.