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Engines in fine tune

Chicago quintet purrs like a kitten on its latest release

These wacky Windy City musicians just can't remain in one place for long. Guitarist Chris Daly and sax man-singer Steve Sostak form the basis of Check Engine, a group that sounds much like the other band the two play in, Sweep the Leg Johnny. There are some differences, though:

While Sweep bulldozes its way through any obstacle, Check Engine is inclined to hold its structure until the last possible moment and then spiral outward into calmer waters. Also, most of the singing here is done by guitarist Joe Cannon rather than Sostak. Cannon's style is subdued, breathless and more pensive than aggressive.

Yet like the parent band, Check Engine is a fearless fusion of jazz abstraction and emo-rock stops, starts and stutters. Daly's relentless guitar doodles indicate he has spent considerable time perusing the Robert Fripp inventory, while Sostak's blazing sax can strike up a bonfire even on the most frozen of tundra. On songs such as 'How Bad (Do You Want It)?' and 'Don't Make Friends With Salad,' all the elements fall into place despite the chaos that threatens to come screaming into the room.

Check Engine plays at 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, at Blackbird, 3728 N.E. Sandy Blvd. 503-292-9949, $6.

Zuppa

Live at the Goodfoot

(AGD Records)

Zuppa is a local groove trio led by guitarist A.G. Donnaloia, supported by Dave Fleschner on organ and drummer Anthony Jones. After establishing a regular gig at the laid-back Goodfoot Lounge on Southeast Stark Street, the three recorded this live testament over a three-month period.

There's plenty to like here, as Donnaloia and Fleschner artfully trade solos, propelled by Jones' expert timing. Fleschner in particular has his act wired tight: His Hammond B3 oozes soulful pulp all over the place, especially on 'Yippes' which has an unassuming, ambling flow, reminiscent of the Mar-Keys or Booker T. The addition of Russ Scott's trumpet on 'Sonrisa de Ahya' also proves a welcome distraction.

Unfortunately, the recording quality

isn't great, and the stereo must be cranked up pretty loud to get any sense of the live show's immediacy. At times it sounds like the band is bumping along two rooms away.

On 'Live at the Goodfoot,' Zuppa demonstrates that it's mastered the icy groove, and it is not too difficult to imagine a roomful of contented, finger-snapping hipsters bobbing their beret-topped heads in appreciation. And yet one wonders what this trio might sound like if they flipped their wigs once in a while? Perhaps we'll find out more when a studio album comes our way.

Zuppa plays at 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, at Jimmy Mak's, 300 N.W. 10th Ave., 503-295-6542, $5.

Plastic Mastery

In the Fall of Unearthly Angels

(Magic Marker Records)

Just as many critics are routinely dismissing the simple charms of indie rock, along comes a record to renew our interest.

What we have here is an absolute pop knockout from a Tallahassee, Fla., collective of musical cutups. 'In the Fall of Unearthly Angels' has 13 songs clocking in at just under a half-hour that shift and rev from acoustic innocence to grandiose, apocalyptic rock in a twinkling.

Fuzzy guitars duke it out with violins and trumpets, while singer Jeremy Underwood wails away his anxieties into the great void. From there, they are borne heavenward by a furious punk-rock orchestra. 'Light Above Your Head' is a highlight, with Underwood insisting that 'there's so much more to life than this place' amid a jumble of anguished violin and acoustic guitars.

Underwood's resilient voice carries a lot of the glory Ñ imagine Built to Spill's Doug Martsch in a strummy, pop mood Ñ but credit also should go to Bill Doss, who recorded this menagerie, and to the always-savvy Magic Marker Records (based in Portland) for recognizing a real champ.

Contact John Chandler at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .