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Originally published July 20, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 20, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Night Watch

Piece will show her "Street Smartz" with smooth-flowing rap and soul

If you like the Blue Scholars mix of cool, unrushed beats and savvy lyrics, you really should check out Laura Kelley-Jahn, better known...

Seattle Times staff reporter

If you like the Blue Scholars mix of cool, unrushed beats and savvy lyrics, you really should check out Laura Kelley-Jahn, better known as Piece.

Blue Scholars' "Bayani" is deservedly gaining much praise on the local scene, and some are calling it one of Seattle's best-ever hip-hop recordings.

Piece doesn't have the same kind of publicity and hype behind her, but her new "Street Smartz" album compares quite favorably to "Bayani." And, like Blue Scholars' Geo, Piece reflects on urban life with a powerful artistic stance: part participant, part observer.

But don't call her a follower — Piece was dropping intelligent hip-hop long before Blue Scholars came along, and patrons of the late-'90s hot spot the 700 Club will remember her as a Jumbalaya cornerstone.

Busy lady, these days. This poetry-slam champion has been writing and performing poetry and day-jobbing with the Seattle Arts Commission and the Think Big Foundation, a nonprofit group offering youth after-school programs in athletics, arts and academics. She even put on a one-woman theater show earlier this year titled "Street Smartz: The Story of a Trueschool B-Girl."

Now, she's back to hip-hop, performing shows to promote her long-awaited second album.

With Piece smoothly flowing head-spinning rhymes, the CD features DV1 on beats, and a fat cast of musicians, including Darrius Willrich, Jessica Lurie and pianist Ruby Bishop (her grandmother and musical mentor).

Piece opens for Guru, who spins bebop into hip-hop for Jazzmatazz, at Chop Suey (9 p.m. Tuesday, $15).

A live band will back Piece, just like those 700 jam sessions. She'll be rapping the likes of the dance-friendly "We Do This" ("she sells CDs down in the Seatown/all around underground b-girl"), the satirical "Rap Star" and the nostalgic title track ("duckin' bullets and dodgin' cops ... chased with a switch/but I'm slicker than lip gloss").

After a recent, casual but sizzling set at Chop Suey, Kelley-Jahn was standing on the sidewalk in front of the club, chatting to a few associates. A few cars driving by on Madison Street paused to give a "What's up, girl?" to the artist, who exchanged pleasantries with them.

She's a true child of the streets, and her inclusion of a map of the Central District in her CD is no "front." Her set-on-the-block album covers the ground from good vibes to pathos, cutting from a double-dutch jump-rope contest to a young kid slinging crack on the corner.

She's even versatile within music, grooving funk and soul vocals as pleasingly as fast-moving raps.

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Who knows how far her career would go if she lived in New York or Los Angeles. She has indeed flirted with moving, yet remains deeply rooted in Seattle.

Good for us.

Other shows

• Chop Suey has been a hot spot lately, and has one of its best weeks of the year. Jeremy Enigk, the beloved singer from Sunny Day Real Estate, continues his solo career at Chop Suey (9 tonight, $12), with Shane Tutmarc & the Traveling Mercies — a rollicking Americana band from the Dolour singer — opening.

The uniquely talented comic Hari Kondabolu has a going-away show — he's leaving Seattle for London — at the Chop (9 p.m. Wednesday, $5). The New York-raised son of Indian immigrants, Kondabolu hilariously wrecks stereotypes. He also stars in a great spoof documentary (directed by the brother of Blue Scholars' DJ Sabzi), and has a great joke about Jesus beating a ticket.

• North Carolina's Ahleuchatistas — an experimental trio, ranging from Fugazi to jazz — skitters into Belltown's Rendezvous/Jewel Box (10:30 tonight, $5).

• Talk about a secret agent ... . By day, he's a mild-mannered insurance agent. By night, he's a snarlin', cussin', trash-talkin', black-hatted singer channeling Johnny Cash and other outlaw country singers. Brent Amaker & the Rodeo — a fast-rising local band with audience favorites like "Get the Hell Out," "Sissy New Age Cowboy" and "Bring Me the Whiskey" — take over the Tractor Tavern (9:30 p.m. Saturday, $7).

Also on the bill is the F-ing Eagles, a hot garage-rock band from Tacoma. After the Tractor Tavern, the Rodeo saddles up to tour Europe.

Damien Jurado, the razor-sharp writer and powerfully simple singer, headlines the Crocodile (10 p.m. Saturday, $10).

• Another exceptional local act, Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter, brings its wide-ranging (alt-country to rockers) sound to the Triple Door (7:30 p.m. Saturday, $18).

• Bainbridge Islanders the Holy Ghost Revival play quirky pop songs like "Burn Down Your House" at the Rendezvous (9 p.m. Sunday, $5).

• The influential "post-rock" band Slint split up in 1992, after just three recordings. The Louisville-born band got back together in 2005 for a brief tour, and is at it again. Slint will be playing long, intensely building songs like "Nosferatu Man" and "Good Morning Captain" — and the rest of "Spiderland," the 1991 high-water mark — at the Showbox (9 p.m. Saturday, $23).

Tom Scanlon: tscanlon@seattletimes.com

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