By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Two-girl/two-boy lineup cranks out complex, often abrasive emo-core saturated with both tension and tenderness. Gender politics aside, drummer Jency Rogers and guitarist/vocalist Natalie Espinoza leave audiences' mouths agape with their supercharged dynamics. This band's live appearances are infrequent, so it's often overlooked in the local punk sweepstakes, but its turbulent song constructions teem with festering emotion.
4. Hillbilly Devilspeak
Everyone has a different definition of punk, but if you consider it to be the loud, dissonant, tension-and-release seesaw rides offered by bands like The Jesus Lizard, then Hillbilly Devilspeak is the epitome of the form. Bassist Tom Reardon works up a volcanic eruption of angst on the slow-burning "Chew Well," only one of several Devilspeak songs that demonstrate that intensity need not be synonymous with fast tempos.
1. Barrio Latino
A versatile dance band if ever there was one, this group boasts of knowing more than 250 songs. It represents a vibrant bridge between the traditionalism of Mexican folk music and the crossover dreams which influence much of contemporary Latin pop.
2. Tony Gutierrez's Pan-American Band
Gutierrez leads the only major band of its kind in the Valley: a mammoth ensemble which smoothly handles the intricate demands of jazzy Latin salsa. This is one of the most musically accomplished groups in the Valley, regardless of the genre.
3. Mariachi Colonial
This traditional band of mariachis was discovered in a Phoenix gay bar by local punk singer Yolanda Bejarano, and a bracing cross-generational fusion was born. Bejarano employs the piercing siren's wail she perfected in the raucous Slugger to beautiful effect, rekindling her childhood fascination with great Mexican vocalists. She's ably supported by the rock-solid work of the long unsung Mariachi Colonial.
4. Straight Up
Basically a funky R&B dance band that just happens to have Latin roots, Straight Up takes its cue from the indestructible '70s grooves of acts like the Ohio Players, and Parliament-Funkadelic. It also does the best bilingual Rick James around. No one musical category can adequately contain it, but Latin will have to do for now.
1. Kongo Shock
Long the dominant ska band on the scene, Kongo Shock has built a loyal, underground base that's nationwide. Loose enough for the horn players to grab quick smokes between riffs, and tight enough to send any dance floor into a mad skank frenzy, Kongo Shock has justifiably earned a rep for explosive live performances.
Equal parts Phoenix and Tucson, this seminal third-wave ska act mixes originals with well-chosen covers in shows that percolate with upstroke wonder. Their ska-inflected take on Bob Marley's "Stir It Up" never fails to live up to its title.
3. Left of Center
This band mixes folk, rock and pop sensibilities with touches of Jamaican rhythms. The members' fluid bass lines and open-ended jams put them in their own, hard-to-define category. But if reggae is only one of their sonic touchstones, it's an important one nonetheless.
4. Zebbhi Niyah
Niyah has deep reggae roots, which extend back to his work with both Rita and Ziggy Marley. His move to Phoenix four years ago brought a needed dose of reggae traditionalism to the scene.
5. Grant Man and Island Beat
Born and raised in Liberia, Grant Man attacks reggae with a warm, soulful delivery that illustrates the band's motto: "Let love be at the forefront of all." His band has gone through numerous lineup changes since its origin in 1989, but the current six-piece configuration has remained in place for three years. Look for the band's long-awaited debut CD, Let's Keep Love Alive, to be released sometime this summer.
1. Lady J and Blues Ratio
Equal parts blues and jazz, this ensemble finds an irrepressibly swinging link between the two genres. It's led by the mother/daughter combination of Lady J and daughter Maxine Johnson.
Guitarist/bandleader Jack Randall not only devised a throwback to the golden days of scratchy 78-rpm jazz records, but he also invented a contraption he calls a phonophone, a long pipe through which he creates a sound that's a cross between a muted trumpet and a trombone. In Phonoroyale's original incarnation, Mary Katherine Spencer delivered ebullient Betty Boop vocals, and the band was a dapper lounge combo perfectly suited for a David Lynch film. Spencer's recent departure has reduced this group to a trio, a scruffy ensemble with a big dose of boogie-woogie coursing through its collective veins.
3. Nuance Jazz Ensemble
With the stated goal of trying to put classical jazz in a modern context, this trio takes a contemporary angle on the Monk and Miles canons, finding fresh terrain in the accepted jazz lexicon, and imposing touches of gypsy music and world beat. The group's sophisticated originals--largely composed by guitarist Stan Sorenson--manage the tough trick of holding their own amongst covers of classics like "Round Midnight."
4. Lookout for Hope
The remnants of last year's champ Odd Man Out, Lookout for Hope has consciously chosen to be the odd band out on the local jazz scene. This trio deconstructs standard jazz theories on song structure and rhythm, and opts for a free-jazz approach where new songs are played for the first time at gigs, and improvisation is completely open-ended. You won't always be sure when the group's songs are over, but once you get on its astral plane, you won't worry about where one song ends and the next one begins.