Stateless Liner Notes 2/10: Sacada

Post 2 of 10: Sacada

‘Sacada (lit. “displacement”) A move in which one partner deliberately invades the other’s floor space, stepping close to or into the place their partner is currently occupying, thus displacing them. This often causes the partner’s free leg to describe an arc along the floor. There may or may not be physical contact between the legs of the two partners at the moment of displacement.’

I enjoy starting this quasi-liner notes entry off with a dictionary definition…I feel like I am working on a report as a grade schooler in need of applying himself more. Sacada is a land of contrasts…and so on.

Once upon a time, a tango enthusiast associate was breaking down some of the seemingly byzantine procedures and terminology involved in this most elaborate dance/subculture. I came across the concept of ‘sacada’ and, helped along by the purloined-from-the-internet definition above, immediately felt a kinship in or echo of my own musical inclinations. Rest easy: none of this sent me to the dance floor (the World breathes a sigh of relief). Of course, while I would love to see some intrepid choreographer take a crack at working with this tune, Sacada the tune bears essentially zero resemblance to actual tango music. (I am, however, very enthusiastic about the music of Osvaldo Pugliese and — it practically goes without saying — Astor Piazzolla, to name two.) I was aiming to represent a certain kind or breathing, shifting, and sensual movement; a sense of disparate trajectories, crowding each other, coming together, moving apart, repeating…that type of thing. It took a long time to get the feel right and to make the rhythms move in the lithe way I was hoping to achieve, in spite of the often unusual rhythmic shapes and frequent meter shifts (3 time signatures in the 1st 3 bars, for starters). The band worked very patiently to get this one up on its feet, perhaps particularly the rhythm section!

One member of the rhythm section, drummer/percussionist Jason Levis has, to my delight, used Sacada as an exercise for his students, asking them to clap out the shifting rhythms and even, to my delight, requesting an arrangement for a student ensemble comprised of vibes, bass, drums, and a vocalist! Jason is a perfect example of the type of rare and extraordinary musician without whom this music would not be possible…or, at the very least, not very good. As a performer and composer, he is equally comfortable and expert in dealing with, just to pick two examples, the thorniest spectral music and his beloved dub reggae. I believe the first time I heard Jason play was in his still-active (and amazing) duo with bassist Liza Mezzacappa, Duo B. Jason played with the Clevenger Group sporadically as far back as 2007 (he guests on marimba on a tune on our previous album, Observatory) and was the obvious choice when, in 2015, I decided that 1 drummer was not nearly enough. Dr. Levis is also extraordinarily generous in agreeing, seemingly happily, to drag all manner of gongs, bowls, cowbells, guiros, glockenspiels, and lord knows what other percussive flotsam to our gigs.

While the Sacada chart does bare the marking “dubius tango”, this is, again, an abstract relationship. In general, as a composer or listener, I can hardly imagine a less interesting compositional goal than the ever-fraught ‘authenticity’ regarding an established form or style. I’m reminded here of a favorite quote from my hero, Werner Herzog: “The so-called Cinéma Vérité is devoid of vérité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.”

Just a little more on the nuts and bolts Sacada; the semi-sprawling form includes features for each of our saxophonists (first Cory Wright and then Kasey Knudsen), both playing over chord changes and then assaying a brief cadenza accompanied by one of our drummers. There is also a brief drum exchange and, during the pastoral-leaning bridge, some hot glockenspiel licks from yours truly. This tune is also one of 4 on Stateless that is graced by the presence of a guest star, the utterly remarkable cellist Crystal Pascucci. Tim DeCillis alternates between vibes and guiro, Jason contributes some tambourine, and Cory alternates between tenor sax and Bb clarinet (Rachel Condry is on Bb clarinet throughout).

Thank you for reading; as ever, link to the tune we’ve been discussing below and don’t be shy: we love it when you buy our album!


Stateless Liner Notes 1/10: Difficult Clocks

Post 1 of 10: Difficult Clocks

OK, as threatened, here is the first in a series of quasi-liner notes, devoted to each song on the new Nathan Clevenger Group album. I’ll be going in album-order, hopefully dropping every couple of days leading up to our 12/2 gig at the Makeout Room. Please note: these are not intended as proper essays; I’m guessing they are going to get pretty digressive. So, you know, caveat emptor! Each post will include a brief digression discussing one of the extraordinary musicians on the album (plus two who are not represented here but contributed greatly along the way). Each post will also include a link to the album, as I am doing my level best to shamelessly hustle this album because: A) it’s tough getting folks to cough up cash for music these days; and B) I am profoundly happy with how this record came out; it feels like a personal culmination, of sorts, and I want people to hear it. Anyway, enough of my yakking…let’s boogie!

(In other words, more of my yakking.)


It felt important, narratively, to open the album with one of the first tunes specifically written for the double-drummer lineup of the Group, and Difficult Clocks fits the bill. As listeners will likely guess, the sections featuring Jon Arkin and Jason Levis switching to claves and guiro respectively represent an early indulgence in/foregrounding of percussive possibilities. Things got even more rich from a percussion standpoint when, a short time later, we added Tim DeCillis on vibraphone & percussion.

[Speaking of Tim, Mr. DeCillis first played with the Group as a sub for Jon. I have a hard time letting go of subs sometimes (our longest-serving member, Kasey Knudsen, joined the band in this manner too), and, hence, the band grows ever more comically large. After hearing Tim’s vibes playing added to our tunes, I had no choice but to keep calling him. Tim is a surpassingly brilliant and sensitive improviser. Plus, for the recording of Difficult Clocks, he performed his maraca and vibraphone parts simultaneously, which I found pretty amazing.]

Thematically, Difficult Clocks is a contemplation of the often primary — and frequently vexing — role that timing can play in the course of human relationships.

Musically, the tune features a melody (played by Kasey on alto sax) that is intended to have a vocal quality, giving the impression of floating semi-freely over the rhythmically aligned layers below. Difficult Clocks was written for and debuted, surrounded by butcher paper sheets emblazoned with notes from anarchist committee meetings, during a gig at Oakland’s Omni Commons. Trumpet master/fellow traveler, Ian Carey, was subbing for Kasey that night, so I wrote this with him in mind. I was also probably thinking of the way Dave Douglas would float over his Charms of the Night Sky ensemble.

The solo sections here are a study in contrasts, with Cory Wright (tenor sax) soloing over a section with fixed duration, chord changes, backgrounds, and unison guitar/bass lines, followed by Rachel Condry (bass clarinet) playing free with support from the drummers and Lisa Mezzacappa’s bass.

Speaking of those unison guitar/bass lines, while I don’t use much unison at all, I do have a weakness for the occasional bit of guitar/bass doubling, which I partially blame on my love of Curtis Mayfield and Henry Mancini. I generally like to employ this device starting on unexpected parts of the beat, enjoying the mild disorientation provided by a clear, groove-adjacent unison line that also can leave the listener feeling wrong-footed.

A final note, you’ll hear that Jason Levis is playing a metal guiro on this tune. I am an embarrassingly zealous proponent of the wooden guiro. This is a matter of irreconcilable debate between myself and the good Dr. Levis. Feel free to vote your conscience in the comments, fans of fish-shaped hand percussion: wooden or metal? I might as well break it to fans of the latter: all other guiro on this album is of the wooden variety.

Thanks for reading and — hopefully — listening! Purchase/stream Stateless here.


To The Marketplace!

I am extremely happy to announce that the new Nathan Clevenger Group album, Stateless, is going to be released on November 2nd, courtesy the fine folks at Slow & Steady Records.

Stateless is now available for pre-order on Bandcamp and the first single, “Sacada”, can be steamed/downloaded now. 

I am extremely pleased with how this album came out, and deeply proud to be presenting so much incredible playing from the musicians featured on the album: Kasey Knudsen, Cory Wright, Rachel Condry, Lisa Mezzacappa, Jon Arkin, Jason Levis, Tim DeCillis, and special guest Crystal Pascucci. I’ve worked with all of these folks for years now — some for well over a decade! — and I think that shared history is audible throughout. The album was recorded by the extremely talented John Finkbeiner and mastered by the brilliant Myles Boisen. My frequent collaborator Kim Miskowicz created some original artwork for the inside and back cover of the CD (reason enough to not just go digital!).

I hope that you will be moved to take a listen and perhaps purchase a copy; thank you for your support.

We have two album release shows on the books: 12/2/19 at the Makeout Room and 1/3/20 at the Temescal Arts Center. More on these soon.


On February 20th, I will be premiering a new extended piece for quartet at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Much more soon on what this is all about, but please mark your calendars for a one-of-a-kind performance.

Stateless and Ice Hours

Unposted and/or abandoned drafts of website news updates from the past few months litter my many, many notebooks…now hopelessly out of date, lost, and coffee-stained. It’s time to accept that I’m not going to find the time for the kind of witty and flowing prose I’d prefer to offer any time soon, so I might as well just drop a few bits of hopefully helpful news and leave it at that for now:


The Nathan Clevenger Group has finished the basic tracks for our 3rd album, Stateless. In May, I will return to the studio for a couple key overdubs (including appearances from a very special guest) and a whole lotta mixing. I am so pleased with the album; I think it is the best musical things I’ve ever been part of. I can’t wait for the world to hear the incredible playing of Kasey Knudsen, Jon Arkin, Cory Wright, Jason Levis, Rachel Condry, Lisa Mezzacappa, and Tim DeCillis and the masterful engineering of John Finkbeiner. I’m hoping to have this wrapped and out this summer; more soon.


March 7th saw the debut of the extended multimedia work Ice Hours at San Francisco’s Exploratorium. The piece features music composed by me and Kristina Dutton, original visuals by Camille Seaman, and video editing/manipulation by Kim Miskowicz; for the debut, the score was performed by Kristina, Sarah Jo Zaharako, Eric Perney, Jordan Glenn, Tim DeCillis, Majel Connery, and yours truly. We subsequently recorded a studio version of most of the score and the film + recorded music is on display at the Exploratorium now through mid-May; go check it out, if you’re curious. I think we’ll be releasing the score in some form sooner or later; I’m happy with how it came out.


Earlier this week, I played a show w the latest version of my shape-shifting Book of Exits ensemble. Formed to have a small unit that can perform new music and arrangements of pieces from the books of all of my various bands, and to have an excuse to reunite w Aaron Novik whenever he is in town, the latest version featured Kasey Knudsen, Cory Wright, and Jon Arkin; we also played a gig in December with Cory, Jon, and Aaron.


What’s next, beyond releasing some records? I dunno. Got a gig for me?



Band of Record

The Nathan Clevenger Group, following our 1.15.19 performance at the California Jazz Conservatory’s new Rendon Hall, and a couple days prior to heading into New, Improved Recording to track album number 3.


Boulez on Debussy

Boulez on my hero Debussy — expressing my own thoughts on/general approach to composition about as well as I can imagine:

(From Stephen Walsh’s new Debussy: A Painter in Sound.)

Happy birthday, Charles Mingus!

You taught me how to read.

And, judging by an item I saw in the ‘More Than a Fakebook’ publication that was the corporeal vector through which this dubious posthumous pedagogy was accomplished — in many a late night, technically-illegally commandeered UCSC music building piano room — you also taught a tuxedo cat how to use a human toilet.

My tuxedo cat is currently choking down 1/4 pill of cat Valium just to get through the day, so, once again, Maestro Mingus wins the day.

Mingus. As one of my other musical heroes, Graham Connah, memorably pointed out in (online) print some years ago, the jazz world at large is still struggling to catch up with and assimilate the advanced and bottomless ensemble practices that Mingus had firmly established by the early 60s. To say nothing of the seemingly unfussy way he understood and rejected the false binary of ‘earthy vs intellectual.’

There is no musician who has meant more to me in terms of clarifying my own musical priorities and preoccupations. Like a great critic, even the areas in which I push back against or reject his concepts serve to illuminate.

To, much too late, cut through all the earlier impromptu-yet-long winded verbiage, when I was a teenager, I thought that Goodbye Porkpie Hat was the most beautiful tune ever written & recorded. and that the 1964 Mingus Group w Dolphy/Byard/Richmond/Jordan/Coles was the best band that ever lived. As opposed to most everything else I thought at that point in my life, I am pretty sure that I still stand by these assessments.

Thank you, Maestro Mingus. And, for the love of god, please apologize to Jimmy Knepper!

A Guide for the Perplexed

April and June are going to be busy (by my standards) gigging months, so I thought I’d lay out the basic details here, for those keeping score at home – I hope to see you out and about at one of more of these performances:



NATHAN CLEVENGER GROUP (unabridged, unwieldy critical edition)

@ Studio Grand, Oakland – 9:30 PM

Kasey Knudsen (alto sax), Cory Wright (tenor sax/clarinet/flute), Rachel Condry (Bb & bass clarinets), Lisa Mezzcappa (bass), Jon Arkin (drums), Jason Levis (drums/percussion), Tim DeCillis (vibes/percussion), and Nathan Clevenger (compositions/guitar)


APRIL 18th

NATHAN CLEVENGER GROUP (vintage chapbook edition — frequently lost on public transit)

@ Jupiter, Berkeley – 8 PM

Kasey Knudsen (alto sax), TBD (bass, aspirational corporeality), Jon Arkin (drums), NC (guitar/compositions)


JUNE 2nd


@ The Octopus Literary Salon, Oakland – 7 PM

Cory Wright (tenor sax/alto flute), Crystal Pascucci (cello), Jordan Glenn (drums/accordion/perucssion), Tim DeCillis (vibes/percussion), NC (guitar/percussion/compositions)


JUNE 16th

NATHAN CLEVENGER GROUP (poncy trade paper novella edition)

@ Jupiter, Berkeley – 8 PM

Kasey Knudsen (alto sax), Cory Wright (tenor sax/clarinet(s)/flute), Lisa Mezzacappa (bass), Jon Arkin (drums), NC (guitar/compositions)

La Que Suena

A piece of original music composed and performed by Kristina Dutton and myself functions as the score to the first edition of a short film series created by Labocine. This film is directed by Alexis Gambis. I’ve attached a short preview (also scored by a bit of our music) — the full short can currently be viewed by subscribers at — their focus is on the intersection and interaction of science and the arts, so, as you can imagine, we’re very happy to be involved! More to come…