FLAMENCO FEST: There is perhaps no genre more offensive to my personal musical sensibilities than the form of smooth jazz. It is nothing more than vapid drivel, the musical equivalent of Hostess Twinkies: all fluff, no substance. The ultimate irony is that a type of music alternately referred to as "easy listening" could be so painful to listen to.

And that's why I got bummed out while doing research on Fresno, CA's Cerro Negro, a modern flamenco trio I caught when they were in town last November. Their press materials tout the fact that they've had the honor of opening for a laundry list of big time smooth jazz artists, and I'm sure that the exposure served them well. But make no mistake about it, unlike true smooth jazz artists, Cerro Negro does not suck.

Guitarists Shane Gonzalez and Frank Giordano play flowing cascades of traditional flamenco guitar, while percussionist John Martin III (who also runs the band's record label, Mata L'Arana Records) keeps things interesting with a variety of percussion instruments -- congas, cajon, djembe, clave and palmas among them -- and the occasional vocal. The result is a sort of modernized take on flamenco music, with touches of world beat, rhumba, jazz and pop music thrown in the mix for a contemporary edge. Yes, they're smooth, and yes, it's kinda jazzy at times, but Cerro Negro is far more interesting than any smooth jazz combo these ears have ever heard.

Catch the return of Cerro Negro at 9 p.m. Friday, March 3, at Plaza Pub, 20 E. Pennington St. Admission is $4, and you can call the club at 882-0400 for more information.

GOING SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST: We've finally entered the month of March, and for music lovers, performers, industry suits, publicists, and yes, even journalists worldwide, that can only mean one thing: South By Southwest, the largest gathering of music-industry types in the world is just around the corner. The event is slated for March 16-19 (which coincides with the UA's spring break) in Austin, Texas, and we'd like to congratulate the four Tucson bands chosen to play showcases at this year's festival:

· Giant Sand, whose new album, Chore of Enchantment, is set to drop soon on their new home at Thrill Jockey Records;

· Calexico, who have just released a four-song vinyl-only remix EP, Descamino (Quarterstick) that precedes the release of their new full-length album in April;

· Crawdaddy-O, who are playing a series of local gigs to coincide with Mardi Gras (the first of which is part of this weekend's opening of the new outdoor music venue at The Copper Room, 222 S. Church Ave., at 10 p.m. Saturday, March 4, along with Flam Chen and the Big Head Puppet Show; call 884-9420 for details);

· and the Amor Belhom Duo, who are playing a show at 9 p.m. Saturday, March 4, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St., in order to raise gas money for the trek to Austin. At the show, the band will be selling limited edition advance copies of their fabulous new CD in special fancy packaging for the same cause. Admission is $3, and you should call the club at 670-9202 for details.

Again, congrats to all, and we'll see you in Austin.

CELT FOLLOWING: In less than three years, Ireland's Lunasa has garnered a reputation as one of the foremost purveyors of traditional instrumental Irish music. Weaving fiddle and flute over a foundation of acoustic guitar and stand-up bass, the group emphasizes the rhythms often hidden under the strong melodies of Irish music with the outstanding talents of former Waterboys bassist Trevor Hutchinson placed front and center in the mix. The band, whom the Irish Voice has called "the hottest Irish acoustic group on the planet," will make its way to Tucson this week in support of Otherworld, its first worldwide release on Green Linnett Records.

Lunasa will perform as part of the continuing Celtic Crossroads Concert Series at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 5, at the Berger Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. Advance tickets are available for $16 at Antigone Books and Hear's Music, or by phone at 881-3947. They'll be $18 at the door.

SLIP UP: Though often lumped into the jam-band category, The Slip plays a brand of jazz-inflected funk-rock that doesn't immediately spring to mind amongst talk of Phish or Salmon (of the Leftover variety) or even String Cheese. As evidenced on the 1997 debut album From the Gecko (Ka Records), the band often recalls the heyday of Steely Dan, but with a slightly improvisational bent -- like if Steely Dan weren't the anal-retentive knob twiddlers they are.

Reportedly, the trio is most at home on stage, and we'll get the chance to see for ourselves when The Slip slides into Nimbus Brewery, 3850 E. 44th St., on Thursday, March 2. Locals Good Question kicks things off at 9 p.m., and if you have additional questions, call Nimbus at 745-9175.

QUADRADICAL EQUATION: In the tradition of British folk-pop artists like Fairport Convention and Pentangle comes Equation. For those uninitiated in the British folk-pop tradition, the band has also been compared to The Cranberries, Beth Orton, 10,000 Maniacs, and Fleetwood Mac, but stands apart from those acts due to a strong fiddle presence. Touring to promote their debut album Hazy Daze (Putumayo World Music), released late last year, the band plays two shows over five days in Tucson.

Catch Equation at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, at St. Michael and All Angels, 602 N. Wilmot Road, and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at The Vineyard, 2 W. Grant Road. Tickets for both shows are $12, and advance tickets may be purchased at Antigone Books, Hear's Music, Zip's University, or by phone at 881-3947.

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