by Mike Corrigan and Leah Sottile

Now that we've all finally dispensed with that weak ersatz-holiday known as Thanksgiving, we can all get on with the real winter festival, the one that kids and retailers look forward to all year long. There's just so much more going on with Christmas that it makes other so-called holidays pale in comparison. There's eggnog, shopping, twinkling lights and pretty bows. There's shopping, sleigh rides, good will and peace on Earth. There's mistletoe, shopping, office parties and baby Jesus. And there's the Spokane Jazz Orchestra's Holidays in Jazz concert -- traditionally, one of the first of the holiday season.

Find out just exactly how fast an evening full of world-class jazz can get you in the spirit this Saturday night at the Met as the 18-piece SJO led by Dan Keberle shifts into festive overdrive.

"If a person likes jazz and the holidays," Keberle notes, "then what could be more fun than hearing Christmas and holiday songs in a jazz style?"

The music director's logic is indeed impeccable. For if jazzed-up renditions of such holiday evergreens as "We Three Kings," "O Christmas Tree," "Greensleeves," "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "Silent Night" don't get your Grinchy heart pumping with glee, you're probably half-dead anyway.

But your ticket buys you much more than an instrumental date with some strings, keys and a bunch of horns. Lending her impressive pipes to the swinging seasonal mix will be none other than the Northwest's much-praised vocalist Charlotte Carruthers, who will be offering her take on such standards as "The Christmas Song," "I'll Be Home For Christmas," "Christmas Time Is Here," "White Christmas" as well as a contemporary, funky, New Orleans-style tune by Harry Connick Jr. entitled "I Pray On Christmas."

"Charlotte has been the vocalist for SJO for many years," explains Keberle. "And the reason is because she is one of the few jazz vocalists in the world who sings jazz without any 'practiced' lines. She grew up in a jazz family, has jazz in her blood and she sings jazz completely naturally and from the heart."

And as always, the SJO will be bringing it all back home with variety and more than a few surprises: new tunes, newly discovered arrangements of old tunes, and the classics rendered with love and great attention to tradition.

"Several of these arrangements are extremely strong," says Keberle, "really fantastic and creative writing. Some are mellow, some are hot, some just swing like crazy."

Solo Soltero -- Any band that draws favorable comparisons to artists as wide-ranging and excellent as Pavement, Neil Young, Silver Jews and Yo La Tengo (not to mention a cross between Johnny Cash and Lee Hazelwood) is like flypaper to my buzzing-insect attention. And that -- along with a glowing endorsement from someone I trust -- is how Soltero came to soar through my open transom.

This pleasantly confounding Boston band has had but one permanent member since its year 2000 formation, that being singer/songwriter/guitarist/noisemaker Tim Howard. The rest of the "band" (drummer Casey Keenan, bassist Ben Macri and guitarist Alexander McGregor) is somewhat less steadfast but no less crucial to the creation of Soltero's engagingly daft constructions. Howard minus the rest of the Soltero crew wriggles his way into Spokane this Friday night for a free solo performance at the Shop.

On Soltero's latest recording (Defrocked and Kicked in the Habit, the follow-up to the band's 2001 debut, Science Will Figure You Out), Howard's lax vocal delivery is often only a few steps above a mumble or growl. (This, along with his occasionally cracked melodies, does eerily recall Pavement's Mr. Malkmus.) Instrumentally, it's all very sparse and open, with the minimal sonics forced to play second-fiddle to Howard's astute, poignant -- and often very funny -- observations and dark emotional wrangling. The compositions are delicate but varied -- you can hear banjo, horns, accordion and viola alternatively stumbling and soaring around in the background somewhere.

Though the group has spent a fair portion of the last couple of years making hit-and-run appearances throughout the Northeast and Midwest (in the company of like-minded units such as Mirah, Mark Robinson, Calvin Johnson, Idaho and the Microphones), Howard and Co. have until now yet to make it to our little corner of the continent. And while a solo Soltero show is admittedly and understandably quite different from a full-band Soltero show, each is certainly worthy of your kind patronage.

Bring on the Bling -- Sure, a lot of hip-hop and rap stars grew up in the ghetto. But when it comes to pop culture, there's a difference between having once lived in the ghetto, and truly being "ghetto." Juvenile is one of those rappers who puts out a lot of rhymes about being from the projects; it's not entirely clear that he ever left. He makes two appearances in Spokane at Thirsty's nightclub Friday night -- an early all-ages gig and a later show for the 21-and-over crowd.

Hailing from the Magnolia projects of New Orleans, Juvenile started his rapping career with a song "Bounce for the Juvenile." It's considered the first, and possibly the only, bounce song. That got him enough attention to land a four-year contract with New York's Warlock Records. But he ran into trouble at the label, and soon swore off hip-hop.

His break was cut short when he ran into Bryan "Baby" Williams, co-CEO of Cash Money Records, at a New Orleans bus stop. They talked, he rapped, and the papers were signed. Juvenile became one of the first acts to make a name for the label along with Lil' Wayne, B.G. and Big Tymers.

More than anything, Juvenile and his Cash Money cohorts made a fast name for themselves with their mostly incoherent rhyming and by coining the term "bling bling," which they used to describe their notoriously lavish lifestyles. The label's artists worshipped diamonds, Escalades and big, round women, which quickly popularized the music of the "Dirty South."

Juvenile has since fallen off the rap spectrum after breaking into the Billboard Top 10 with "Back that Azz Up" in 1998. He's been arrested for getting in a mall fight, and recently won a copyright suit over fellow New Orleans rapper Jubilee -- who claimed Juvenile ripped off his previously released "Back That Ass Up." (Hmmm. Maybe a little "bling bling" helped him win the case.)

Friday night's shows at Thirsty's are being billed as a single release party. Juvenile also recently informed reporters that Cash Money and he had patched up any differences, and that fans can expect to see a new album out next year.

Publication date: 12/04/03

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