Rise and shine

Weekend offers a whirlwind tour of local music scene

Paula Moore has long been a Deep Ellum fixture (dare we say "Ellument?"), with a history that dates back to the late Video Bar and the founding of Last Beat Records. Now a regional A&R person for MCA (she just made the jump from RCA), she may be best known for starting Wake UP Dallas!, a showcase of area bands now in its fourth year.

An excellent opportunity to see a quick-moving parade of local acts, Wake UP Dallas! happens at Trees November 8 and 9; patrons older than 21 get in free, and those younger than 21 need pay only $3. "We just want to encourage people to be involved," Moore says. Her ultimate goal is to foster a sense of community--"We want bands to get involved with each other and meet," she says--but there are other shorter-term benefits, as well.

"Last year we had a good response, not only from [clubgoers], but also from the industry...There were over a dozen label people at last year's shows, and five labels have confirmed for this year," she says. "It's a lot of fun. Bands get to do their three best songs, so there's not a lot for them to freak out over, and the whole thing runs quickly and smoothly."

The first band plays at 9:25 p.m. each evening; doors open at 8 p.m. November 8's acts include ashes-of-Funland phoenix Centro-Matic, rocker Fletcher, punk Pump 'N Ethyl, and One Ton stalwarts Slow Roosevelt and Caulk. November 9 will still rock, but in a bit mellower vein: Acts include Cresta, Billboard buzz monkey Buck Jones, '90s folk songstress Meredith Miller, and co-headliners Crimson Clay and grand street cryers.

Double your pleasure
To paraphrase Kermit the Frog, it's not easy being in Brave Combo. There's the rotating roster of drummers, and that tiresome "nuclear polka" label. Not only that, but there's the hassle of balancing your beloved local rep with J.D. Considine's dissing you as "camp" in the Rolling Stone Record Guide (that must be particularly hard to take), and all those odd time signatures.

Perhaps some succor can be had, then, from the fact that for the first time ever Denton's eclectic combo has two albums recently released and available to the public. The first, on Rounder, is Mood Swing Music, a collection of odds and ends that never made it onto albums or were only released overseas; the other is Austin-based Watermelon Records' Kiss of Fire, a collaboration between BC and Lauren Agnelli (formerly of the Washington Squares).

Both albums are delightful, but different. The Rounder release is what you might call "typical" Brave Combo--heavy on the old Four Dots Records stuff, waltzes, polkas, and less-identifiable efforts like the weird-o-rama "Volare," which until now was only available as a Japanese import. Kiss of Fire is much more uniform--a collection of urbanities that mixes original tunes and classics like "I Could Have Danced All Night" and a rewritten "(The) Eyes of Santa Lucia." Your first impulse might be to file this with the various lounge-type efforts currently clogging the pipeline, but hold up: While Kiss definitely conjures up a continental baguette-in-a-bistro feeling, its ethos is miles ahead of the mere kitsch that seems to steer most of the music of the tedious, cigar-sucking "cocktail nation." Definitely worth checking out.

But not forgotten
The public eye is such a fickle thing that when musicians drops out of it, we seldom think of them as "gone"; in fact, we seldom think of them at all. That's why people are still stunned to learn that Jaco Pastorius--the self-proclaimed "world's greatest bass player," familiar to millions primarily for his stint with fusion giant Weather Report--has been dead for nearly a decade.

More shocking still are the circumstances surrounding his death. Destitute and deranged, and for all intents and purposes homeless, he was beaten so severely outside a south Florida nightclub in 1987 that he died nine days later. The story that briefly emerged--about a deeply troubled genius who seemed hellbent on destroying everything he had worked on and for--slipped into the background noise of American media and then away; people are still surprised when they learn of his passing and the way he went.

With Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius (Miller Freeman Books, $14.95), longtime music writer Bill Milkowski (Downbeat, Jazz Times, Guitar Player) draws the arc of the life of an artist who achieved a rare immortality: Like Eddie Van Halen on the six-string, Pastorius affected the playing of nearly every bass player who came after him. His technique--full of harmonics and undertones, both intensely percussive and gently melodic--could produce runs of astounding agility (he had double-jointed thumbs) and dazzling speed, or notes that floated along with the grace of a whale gliding through the sea.

Milkowski covers the whole of Pastorius' life, from the phenomenal youngster who neither drank nor smoked to the jabbering, self-destructive street person borne along a river of drugs and alcohol. That Jaco Pastorius was mentally ill now seems painfully obvious, and one of the revelations implicit in his story is how quickly we've made progress in understanding such diseases--progress that, unfortunately, we can measure against how utterly clueless people were only a decade ago. One of the book's most poignant moments is when, after Jaco is brought to New York City's Bellevue Hospital in a straitjacket, his doctor explains the seven symptoms of a manic-depressive personality. Milkowski--a New York City jazz fixture who hung with Pastorius in the '80s--has done such a good job of presenting Jaco up to this point that the reader immdiately recognizes the symptoms (relentless activity, extreme talkativeness, fanciful visions, and an inflated ego, among others) as significant aspects of Jaco's personality.

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