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Originally published Friday, February 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Night Watch

Choklate adds a sweet vibe to our post-grunge sound

A publicist for Paste magazine e-mails to boast of how her publication is looking at the musical demise of Seattle, "the Ground Zero of...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Listen up

Hear Choklate at www.myspace.com/listen2chok; the Hands at www.myspace.com/handshandshands.

A publicist for Paste magazine e-mails to boast of how her publication is looking at the musical demise of Seattle, "the Ground Zero of grundge." (Probably a typo, but I like it.)

An online reader from Brazil e-mails to say she will be visiting Seattle, and to plead for advice:

"Do you know of any grunge places left? ... I also appreciate if you could suggest some grunge clothing stores (if those ever existed)."

These are just recent examples to show how much of the world still pictures us: greasy-haired, flannel-clad, down-tuned guitar rocking grungers. (Grundgers?)

Even if you're tuned into what's going on around the clubs and local radio, you know that it's a rock-dominated local scene — heavy on indie and garage, sides of emo, punk-metal and hip-hop.

If the Hands, who are trying to "abandon" garage rock, wonder how they will be received by Seattle, imagine Choklate, a marvelous soul singer whose voice is geographically and chronologically adrift.

Last week, Choklate (pronounced just like the candy) was all smiles and high fives. The sun was out, her new recording was sounding good, she was planning a tour and — perhaps most telling of all — she was preparing for her biggest Seattle shows.

Jazz Alley is the Dom Perignon of Seattle clubs. This swank downtown venue has hosted the likes of Oscar Peterson, Branford Marsalis, McCoy Tyner and other jazz greats. Homegrown stars Nancy Wilson and Diane Schuur have had concerts here, and Eartha "Cat Woman" Kitt prowled this stage.

Tuesday and Wednesday (7:30 p.m., $20.50 each night), Jazz Alley invites Choklate to take her shot at the microphone. She's something of an unorthodox booking for the conservative venue.

Gary Bannister, artistic director of Jazz Alley, said he heard Choklate's music on a local radio show. "I immediately recognized the quality of her production and thought it would be something that might help Jazz Alley move into a new arena of presenting," Bannister said, via e-mail. "It's a win-win for everyone, she gets a nice venue, we get a rising star that's going to bring a whole new audience to Jazz Alley."

This rising star is unique, perhaps even curious, not only for Jazz Alley but for the totality of Seattle — simply, she is not of this time, not of this place.

Told that she has a Stax/Watts sound from the '60s, Choklate smiles and shrugs. "He's always telling me what the sound is like," she says, pointing to producer Vitamin D, "but I just forget — I'm kind of an airhead."

Fitting, for their below-the-mainstream sound, Choklate and D are working in his underground studio, below the OK Hotel (the former music venue that is now an "affordable" housing and art space).

Vitamin D replays a new Choklate song he's been working on, "Sun's Out." It's a booming, soundtrack-ready cut, with D bumping Motown and Herbie Hancock grooves and Choklate's vocals busting out, Mary J. Blige style.

If the rest of the album is anywhere near as good, the singer and producer are cooking up a major feast.

Her record-in-the-making, she says, "describes my real, everyday life over music that's a seamless marriage of hip-hop and R&B. My voice over those sounds is soul.

"People ask me all the time: 'Will the scene allow you to do your thing? Will the other musicians accept you?'

"Honestly, I don't give a damn ... It's catching people off guard. I get it that it's different — well, I don't, but I get it that people think it's different."

Don't expect any of the new songs at Jazz Alley. She says she'll be doing jazz interpretations of her older songs, as well as covers of Prince and Jade.

• Over Rainier beers at the Victory Lounge (the former Lobo Saloon) recently, three members of the Hands moaned and groaned and grudgingly accepted a hole they've dug for themselves. They keep getting compared to the Rolling Stones, which is only their fault — one of their songs uses the lyric "can't get no satisfaction."

And songs like "Lies Lies Lies" charge ahead with the peacock-rock of Jagger and company, circa 1967.

Then again, the Hands at times are the negative of the Stones, as on "I Don't Want to Turn You On" (Mick, of course, wants to turn everyone on).

Led by snarling singer John Healy, the Hands are a party band, and they're not sure where they fit in with the Seattle music scene.

"Indie rockers don't really like what we're doing," proclaimed the lanky, cynical guitar player Eli Chuckovich — a statement that led to a short debate over what indie rock really is. Which in turn leads them to talk about how their first CD was garage rock, and they're trying to get away from that.

The Hands' CD-release show was originally scheduled for the Crocodile. When that club closed, it ended up at Neumo's (9 tonight, $8). The Hands sounded a little nervous about drawing enough fans to make the big Capitol Hill club look full, then decided it will be a party, no matter what.

"The audience will have a good time," promised Jordan Locke, a cross between James Spader and Sean Penn's Spicoli. Then, reconsidering for a split second, he added, "At least, the audience will see us having a good time."

King Cobra, the former Sugar dance club that was bought out by the owners of Kincora, launches its live-music programming this weekend.

Metal and punk bands rock the Capitol Hill club — next to the Comet, across from Neumo's — at 9 tonight ($7) and 10 p.m. Saturday ($6). Visqueen, the once-hyped poppy punk band, plays at King Cobra at 9 p.m. Sunday ($8).

Tom Scanlon: 206-464-3891 or tscanlon@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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