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:

 

APRIL 2nd

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

ASHEN CLERIC

@ 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 https://www.labocine.com — 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…

The Future, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

Greetings, people of 2018.

 

The big news of the year in my musical world is the debut (2/5 at the Makeout Room) of my new ensemble, Ashen Cleric. The band includes Crystal Pascucci, Jordan Glenn, Cory Wright, and Tim DeCillis, all players I’ve been a fan of for a long time. I’ve had the privilege of playing with each of them in different configurations over the years, but the results of this mix of personalities addressing this new book of music feels distinct and, dare I say, new. Dark, open, prickly chamber music. I’m really looking forward to digging deeper and playing more – I hope to have more news on that front soon.

 

For the moment, the 2018 calendar is blank, other than plans to record the 3rd Nathan Clevenger Group album this spring. How will said album be released? How much do I want to tilt at windmills in terms and how effectively can I deny or forestall the dying of the physical media light? Time will tell. You’ll hear it here first, even though I also hear that personal websites are on the way out as well. Ahhh, the future.

 

More in time.

When 10 musicians is just not enough…

Too busy for more exhaustive blather, but here’s a quick note:

 

Tonight – 11/3/17 — is the night and Berkeley’s California Jazz Conservatory is the place. The great trumpeter/composer Ian Carey and I present lots of original music for our respective groups and then combine forces for 2 debut pieces for the collected 11-piece ensemble.

 

Tickets and full info here.

 

A preview from Berkeleyside scribe Andrew Gilbert here.

 

You can imagine how hard it is getting all of these in-demand players in one place at one time, so you know this may be a one-time thing! Why miss it and risk the cruel mockery of your peers and community? What better way to spend a fall evening than with an espresso (or your drink of choice) and live music at the California Jazz Conservatory?

 

Also, I’m happy to report that a film project featuring an original score by yours truly and my musical partner in crime Kristina Dutton was awarded runner-up in the ‘Scientific Merit Award’ category at the Imagine Film Festival (for the film that “best exemplifies science in storytelling and narrative filmmaking in a compelling, credible and inspiring manner”). Congrats to Nipam Patel. Go, squid(s), go!

 

Up next:

 

Probably news re: a new ensemble and hopefully some more news for my ongoing film music collaboration with Kristina.

Enter the Lion (March News)

Thanks for stopping by for a quick dose of news re: happenings recent and ongoing.

On February 6th, the Nathan Clevenger Group made our 2017 debut at San Francisco’s Makeout Room. These days, it is rare to play in a venue in San Francisco with this kind of tenure…or, for that matter, to play in a venue in San Francisco, full stop! The Makeout Monday series is always a good hang and we enjoyed debuting some new music and seeing some old friends. Speaking of which, with Cory Wright out of the country and by the grace of a rare scheduling confluence, we had a grand opportunity to welcome back clarinetist Aaron Novik, visiting from New York. Aaron originated the role of Clevenger Group clarinetist on our first gig back in 2003 and played over 50 gigs as a member of the band before leaving town. It was great having his artistry and personality back in the mix.

February also saw the launch of the revamped version of my Elective Infinities ensemble. With 2 members departing for other states/counties respectively, we added Phillip Greenlief (reeds) and Robert Lopez (drums) to the returning trio of Sarah Zaharako (violin), Eric Perney (bass) and yours truly. It was a very fun first gig and a pleasure to share The Uptown stage with our wildly talented friend Zachary James Watkins and the legendary Larry Ochs/Donald Robinson duo. Many thanks to the surprisingly healthy Valentine’s Day crowd and to the great folks at the Active Music Series for hosting. We dug into some tunes from EI 1.0 and a couple debuts as well and I’m looking forward to hearing the new lineup develop.

I’m currently in the midst of my next film scoring project with Kristina Dutton, this time for a very interesting film by a local visual artist touching on the effects of climate change on coastal cities, using a very innovative and unusual approach to the material. More on this as it coheres – should be rather interesting!

Nothing on the gig calendar at the moment, but I aim to rectify that ASAP. More on that soon, with a little luck.

Be safe out there.

n.c.

Good News/Bad News

Two quick updates:

The bad: I just learned that the Berkeley Arts space is being sold which means the cancellation of our 12.1 trio gig. This project will regroup and find a new debut gig soon, I hope.

 

The good: You can now view the squid video I mentioned in my last post, featuring an original score composed and performed by me and Kristina Dutton. Enjoy!

Fall Dispatch

Greetings from a rare rainy day. I figured it was as good a time as any to post a bit of a news update, particularly as we’re going dark for a couple months (barring something unexpected, it appears the NC Group has played our final gig of 2016).

 

Here’s a progress report in 2 sections.

 

WHAT”S HAPPENING (now & soon)

 

I:

I’ve recently started a new collaboration with the immensely talented violinist Kristina Dutton. Our first joint effort found us composing and recording a score for a short film documenting the early stages of squid development, created by a distinguished UC Berkeley professor. I’ll share less cryptic information on this – and hopefully a link to the finished product – when it’s all made public. Kristina and I will be appearing with the film and filmmakers at a panel at UCB in the coming weeks as well.

 

I’m very happy with what we came up with for what we termed the ‘Squidvid’ score, particularly as the sounds we coaxed out of our collection of violins, pianos, organs, endless percussion implements, and the like is so very different from the samey, often strictly computer-music based scores I hear on so many science/nature docs. Kristina and I are planning to continue developing this collaboration and we’re on the lookout for any interested filmmakers or visual artists looking for some unique soundtrack music!

 

II:

I’ve started creating a book of music for a new trio, featuring my frequent collaborator Jordan Glenn (percussion genius) and the aforementioned Miss Dutton (violin). It will be quite a departure from my Group, I think. Please come confirm this suspicion along with me at our debut gig, December 1st at Berkeley Arts! More on this band soon.

 

III.

My brilliant friend, Rabbi David Kasher, is the host of a podcast called Parsha Nut wherein, to put it reductively, our intrepid host shares field reports from his intensive survey of the Torah. Beginning with the last episode of October, each episode will feature an introduction that includes a bit of music from the most recent Nathan Clevenger Group album. I’m thrilled to be involved in this small way! Take a listen — you can find the podcast on iTunes and elsewhere.

 

WHAT’S HAPPENED (of late)

I.

At the end of September, the Nathan Clevenger Group was honored to be part of SF Music Day, an amazing and sprawling festival presented by SF Friends of Chamber Music. It was a thrill to share a bill with so many talented artists and colleagues. It seems much of the event was filmed so hopefully we’ll get some clips posted sooner or later. Thanks to everyone who made time to catch our set and say hello and, of course, to our brave and generous hosts.

 

That is all.

 

n.c.

I Could Never Forget You

Been a minute, as the early middle aged say — excuse my neglect.

Let’s get to the key facts first before plunging into my patented prattle, probable-pablum, and esoterica.

The next Nathan Clevenger Group gig is September 1st at Oakland’s delightful Octopus Literary Salon. We played the Octopus in May and loved it, so it’s very exciting coming back for more. And not just because the book store part of the operation includes a ‘Seafaring’ section. We’ll be playing as part of a double-bill beginning at 8 PM, following an early-evening poetry reading! I say come for the whole evening. The Group for the evening will be a unique mix of regulars, newcomers, and visiting friends: Kasey Knudsen (alto sax), Rachel Condry (clarinets), Ian Carey (trumpet), Lisa Mezzacappa (bass), Jason Levis (drums), Tim DeCillis (vibraphone), and yours truly. Good times in downtown Oakland — please come lend your ear and support to a most worthy venue.

Later in September — 9/25, to be exact — we’ve been asked to be part of this year’s SF Music Day, a massive all-day festival organized by the SF Friends of Chamber Music. This is an honor and a thrill, particularly in light of the collection of amazing ensembles joining us on the bill. Not sure if the full lineup is public yet, but please mark your calendar, watch their website, and expect to hear more about this from me as well. Our slot will be 5:30-6:15 in the Taube Theater. More information on all this very soon. Expect new material…thrills…you know the deal.

In sideman news, I am always exceedingly proud to play a gig with the quartet Host Family (Karl Evangelista, Jason Hoopes, Jordan Glenn, and me), and we are back at it on 8/4 at the Hemlock Tavern. This bill is incredible — we’re joined by Duo B and PG13 — and it’s going to be fun bringing our duel guitar attack and peerless rhythm section duo to a club I haven’t played in many years. We’re also debuting my first tune composed for the band. I love this band…come on out, San Franciscans!

Now, for the more free form or big picture news…

As I’ve whinged about elsewhere, we’ve had some personnel tumult in recent months, with band members moving away — indefinitely (Sam Bevan) and temporarily (Cory Wright) — and being taken out of the rotation by touring and the like (Jon Arkin). As a result, we’ve been welcoming some special musicians we admire into the band, including Tim DeCillis (vibes/percussion), Crystal Pascucci (cello), and Ian Carey (trumpet). I say expect to see more of this for the rest of the year, at least. I hate to see key players leave, but having an excuse/the necessity to welcome new players and even instruments into the ensemble is always an enjoyable and illuminating challenge.

Speaking of personnel fleeing town, my relatively new band, Elective Infinities, has been decimated by the exit of Britt Ciampa (right when I finally learned to pronounce his last name correctly too!) and the impending departure of the essential Aram Shelton. The bay area will miss these amazing players terribly, I daresay, and I’m not sure what this portends for Elective Infinities, beyond a necessary hiatus for the moment. We’ll see.

But it’s not all exits, and there is also a new trio in the early conceptual stages, so perhaps that will be heard from sooner or later? Why am I asking you? This is spiraling…thanks for reading…transmission over.

One Year Closer to ‘The Future’

2016, is it? Can’t say I am thrilled with starting the year losing 2 huge inspirations and true heavyweights, Paul Bley and Pierre Boulez (I wouldn’t want to be Pat Betheny right now), but let’s try to get past that.

 

In good (and relevant, assuming you are reading this by choice) news, I started the year off with the debut of a new ensemble, Elective Infinities. The band features 4 of my favorite musicians, Sarah Zaharako (violin), Aram Shelton (alto sax/clarinet), Eric Perney (bass), and Britt Ciampa (drums/percussion). I’ve played with Eric and Aram a lot over the years, in assorted bands and as frequent subs in my main ensemble. This is the first time I’ve had the pleasure to play with Britt and the first time with Sarah, outside of the occasional large ensemble thing. The music is less extensively scored than my normal music and the pieces are more open and, more or less, never swing. Inspiration is taken from the likes of Stanislaw Lem, Kim Stanley Robinson, Henry Cow, and Werner Herzog. Sometimes it is grandiose in a funny way. Sometimes it is delicate and mournful. It’s sort of sci fi music, but not terribly respectful about it. It was a pleasure writing a new set of music with them in mind, and the debut gig (1/4 at the Makeout Room) was a fun start to something I plan to keep going. Look for – or offer us — more gigs this year!

 

My eponymous septet is going to be making our 2016 debut at Oakland’s Studio Grand on February 29th. So, in case you were stressing about having an appropriately significant Leap Day activity, we’ve got you covered. Lots of recent and new music debuting with this group of late and I’m really excited about this moment in our long history. For the 2/29 gig, we’re joined on the bill by the great trio Aunt Rose (Jordan Glenn, Crystal Pascucci, and Mark Clifford). I also expect my septet to be joined by a couple special guests on a tune or two. Please don’t miss this one! It’s the first gig by this group with no subs (worthy though those players are!) whatsoever in many, many months!

 

Hopefully more news soon on upcoming recording plans for the Clevenger Group.

 

I hope your year is off to a good start. Be safe out there, P.B.’s and otherwise.

 

nsc