ALL IN THE FAMILY: Several years ago a band called Tortoise appeared out of the Midwestern metropolis known as Chicago, Ill., and sent fans and critics alike into a hyperbolic frenzy.

The band experimentally combined elements of dub, avant-garde jazz, electronica, recurring motifs typical of film scores, and the ever-present indie aesthetic, to form a virtually indescribable new form of music. Critics dubbed the sound "post-rock," a tag that, as the sound has evolved to the point of near-saturation in the Chicago community, has become less and less accurate.

Thrill Jockey, the label responsible for bringing the world this new sound (and the home of our own Giant Sand), has recently tailored its approach, and has begun calling the sound--less intriguingly, but surely more accurately--"independent jazz."

The scene itself is increasingly incestuous, with dozens of individuals playing in several bands at once. But none of these bands should be shrugged off as mere side-project fluff, as we have the opportunity to find out this week when two of Chicago's finest hit our fair burg.

Headliner Isotope 217 is touring on the strength of its third Thrill Jockey release, Who Stole the I Walkman? This is a decidedly more beat-heavy engagement than its previous discs, but no less experimental as the group--comprised of cornetist Rob Mazurek, bassist Matt Lux, John Herndon and Dan Bitney on percussion and keyboards, and guitarist Jeff Parker (the last three of whom are also members of Tortoise)--explores quiet and delicate passages that, without warning, give way to driving beats and free-jazz noise.

Surprisingly more effective in its opening duties for Calexico about a year back was the live version of the Chicago Underground Duo, which pairs Mazurek's cornet with percussionist Chad Taylor (see: I told you the scene was incestuous). The duo's new disc, Synesthesia, its second for Thrill Jockey, fleshes out the minimalism of its debut with studio trickery courtesy of engineer John McEntire (also of Tortoise). Expect a stunning live perfomance and you likely won't go home disappointed.

Isotope 217 and the Chicago Underground Duo perform at 9 p.m. on Thursday, December 7, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Cover for the all-ages show is $7 at the door, and you can call 884-0874 for further details.

SON AND MOON: Sunday nights at Club Congress are devoted exclusively to Latin dance music, normally courtesy of your friendly DJs Noe and Mateo; but this week Oye Latino becomes Oye Latino Especial Cubano, as the club hosts a special live performance by Son de Luna featuring Victor Lay.

Perhaps best known as the composer of "Cienfuegos Tiene Su Guaguanco," a song most familiar in its rendition by Ibrahim Ferrer and the Buena Vista Social Club, Lay and his band play son music, the main traditional song form of Cuba, and the root of salsa. Think of it this way (but be careful not to have an SAT flashback): son is to salsa what the blues is to rock.

Lace up your dancing shoes and head out to Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., at 9 p.m. on Sunday, December 10, to check out Son de Luna. Cover charge is $6, and your questions will be answered by calling 622-8848.

OTHER JINGLIN' BELLS: David Nelson's Grateful Dead-related pedigree is indisputably stellar. To wit: Nelson comprised one-third of the seminal Wildwood Boys (along with Jerry Garcia and Dead lyricist Robert Hunter), a precursor to the Dead that dates all the way back to 1962; he was an integral studio musician during, arguably, the Dead's most fruitful period of studio recordings (he played on Aoxomoxoa, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty); and he was a founding member of The New Riders of the Purple Sage. In 1994, Nelson took center stage to form--what else?--the David Nelson Band, which finds him and a pack of like-minded troubadours traveling the rocky terrain of post-Dead bluegrass-rock with aplomb.

Catch the David Nelson Band at 9 p.m. on Thursday, December 7, at Nimbus Brewing Company, 3850 E. 44th St. Tempe's Dexter Grove opens the show, and cover is $10 at the door.

Though details were a bit sketchy at press time, Nimbus will also be the site for a good ol' fashioned rockabilly festival the following night, Friday, December 8. Five or so bands, including Al Foul and The Shakes and Exit 56, will play the warehouse-sized space for the gig. Further details on both shows are yours for the calling 745-9175.

Speaking of Jerry, a quote from Native American Neil Young-inspired rocker Keith Socola: "Some of the best advice anyone ever gave me was from Jerry Garcia. He told me, 'You know, Keith, in America good music falls through the cracks all the time. So don't even worry about it.'" But you, dear reader, should worry about it because Socola's music indeed falls into the "good American music" category. If you missed him in his last local go-'round, here's your chance to redeem yourself: Keith Socola and Wild Band of Indians return to 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St., on Saturday, December 9. Mary Redhouse opens the show at 9 p.m., and cover is $6 at the door. For more info call 670-9202.

Two of Southern Arizona's best-loved reggae-based bands team up this weekend for an all-ages show. Ska-tastic touring beasts Warsaw have just returned home from an extended tour that took them to New York and D.C. They'll be showing off their road-savvy chops along with opener Stuck in a Groove, winner of this year's TAMMIE award for Best Reggae Band, and currently working on its first studio album, produced by Warsaw's Aaron Poland. The rock-steady stylee takes over The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave., at 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 9. For cover charge info call 629-9211.

Touring to support their newly released "greatest hits" package, The Least Worst of... (Roadrunner), gloom-n-doom gothboys Type O Negative make a rare Tucson appearance this week. Along with openers Simon Sez, TON will grace the stage of The New West, 4385 W. Ina Road, at 7 p.m. on Monday, December 11. Advance tickets for the all-ages show (bar with valid ID) are available for $17 at both Puff 'N' Stuff locations. Call 744-7744 for additional information.

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