Named after the cult John Coltrane LP Sun Ship, Sunship is a quintet whose obvious instrumentation—guitar, saxophone, bass, drums, and trombone—not only fulfills but deftly flouts expectations of jazz-inflected grooves and buzz-saw saxophone wailing.

Indeed, after a stellar performance at the Chapel Performance Space last May, Sunship's visibly exhausted saxophonist Michael Monhart gushed, "I can't believe we only played four tunes!"

That exclamation surprised me, too. We might have heard 4 tunes or 40, yet it was a blessing to float adrift: Rather than fill space with extended, riff-based jams, the five musicians aboard Sunship bracketed space and silence by scattering sounds above, around, and behind the audience. While guitarist Brian Heaney casually picked out a moody, slithering riff, Stuart Dempster roved behind the crowd beaming elongated analog synth blats from his didgeridoo. Dempster crept quietly like a ninja from a kung-fu movie; sound would appear and then vanish only to rematerialize a few feet away.

Near the end, Heaney and bassist Andrew Luthringer somehow locked into a fast strumming groove; I expected a segue into the incessant high-hat lick of "It's About That Time" (or the theme from Shaft) and hard-blowing sax solo. But Dempster injected some slurred, bent notes on the trombone; the tempo accelerated, and an avalanche of gongs, bells, and other small percussion instruments led to another molten transition of chimes, quiet gasps on the saxophone, and a single concluding drum stroke.

When I asked Heaney about Sunship's return to the Chapel, he said, "We're going after the same energy." I'm glad: Sunship is one of the few groups that not only plays in a space, but plays with space. recommended

Catch Sunship on Fri Dec 14, Fourth floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 547-6763, 8 pm, $5–$15 sliding scale donation.

Concerts

Thurs 12/13

SRJO NONET

The Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra slims down to nine for the Art of Jazz series at SAM. Dedicated to preserving big-band jazz, the SRJO excels at ballads and swinging midtempo numbers, so this should be a treat. Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave, 547-6763, 5:30—7 pm, free with museum admission.

SEATTLE SYMPHONY

For the last two weeks, I've been monitored by the Messiah Secret Police, a shadowy special-ops team that makes sure Handel's Messiah is not only performed across the nation (here in this case, by the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Symphony Chorale) but written up by indifferent writers like me: Yes, Messiah is fun, ennobling, majestic, etc., go see it. Also Fri Dec 14 at 8 pm, Sat Dec 15 at 1 and 8 pm, and Sun Dec 16 at 2 pm. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 215-4747, 7:30 pm, $20—$85.

DEAL'S NUMBER

One of the countless groups within the Monktail Creative Music Concern, Deal's Number sasses up the traditional sax-bass-drums jazz trio. I like their new disc, Show Me What Ya Workin With (MCMC Records); drummer Mark Ostrowski keeps the group in continual forward motion while saxophonist Bill Monto astutely melds the blues with 1960s free jazz. John Seman, the group's anchor, understands the dual role of the bassist, offering rhythmic and harmonic propulsion as well as melodic commentary. Egan's Ballard Jam House, 1707 NW Market Street, 789-1621, 9 pm, $5.

Sat 12/15

CANTERBURY & SMITH

Too few know that one of the 20th century's main innovators of the clarinet, William O. Smith, lives here in Seattle. A compadre of Dave Brubeck and collaborator with the avant classical composer Luigi Nono, Smith pioneered extended clarinet techniques in the 1960s and 1970s; he discovered how to play multiple clarinets simultaneously while cataloging the chirps, croaks, and other surprising tones possible on the instrument. Here, Smith teams up with one of our burg's most gifted and technically adept improvisers, Jesse Canterbury, for an afternoon concert. They celebrate the release of their album collage/décollage (Present Sounds) with trombonist Stuart Dempster, clarinetist François Houle, and guitarist Tom Baker. Fourth floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 2 pm, $10/$15 (includes CD).

UNSILENT NIGHT

This version of Phil Kline's installation for mobile boom boxes diffuses multiple recordings of "Silent Night" throughout Fremont. It's perhaps the most astonishing Christmas music you'll ever hear and a rare example of successful sound-based "community art." To participate, see www.unsilentnight.com for details. Fremont Rocket, SE corner of N 35th St and Evanston Ave, 6 pm, free.

WALLY SHOUP TRIO

Agile, out-jazz fury with eruptive alto saxophonist Wally Shoup, pianist Gust Burns, and Bob Rees on drums and vibraphone. Fourth floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 8 pm, free.

Mon 12/17

ORCHESTRA SEATTLE

George Shangrow and the band scale one of the summits of Western civilization, Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers. First Free Methodist Church, 3200 Third Ave W, 800-838-3006, 7 pm, $10—$25.

chris@delaurenti.net