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

And Just As Suddenly, We’re Back in Business

Looks like reports of the calendar-year-demise of the Nathan Clevenger Group were premature. We’ll be playing a set on December 8 at the Omni Commons, new home to the august Active Music Series. See our gigs page for more details. We’ll be bringing the full septet (Cory Wright, Rachel Condry, Sam Bevan, Jon Arkin, Jason Levis, and, subbing for Kasey Knudsen, Ian Carey) and debuting 2-3 brand new tunes! Please come check out what we’re up to — I’m very excited about the development of the expanded band over the past year and eager to present some new music for this aggregation.

Coming up early in 2016, we have the debut of a new quintet — Elective Infinities — in which I am joined by Sarah Zaharako, Eric Perney, Aram Shelton, and Britt Ciampa. We’ll be playing at the Makeout Room as part of the always-excellent Makeout Monday series on Monday, December 4th. 

Then, on February 29th, the full septet rides again (with Kasey back in the fold), this time at Oakland’s lovely Studio Grand. We’ll be sharing the bill with a new group called Aunt Rose, featuring a scary-talented trio of Jordan Glenn, Crystal Pascucci, and Mark Clifford. Rumor has it at least one of the 3 will be sitting in with us as well…should be a fun night and we’d love to see you there.

October Idyll

Apparently we are taking a couple months off — awkward for me to find out this way, but that’s ok. I thought I’d stop in, blow the dust off the blinds, and share what passes for news.

We had lots of fun playing deep cuts from our songbook in various quartet configurations of the Group at Jupiter every week in August. Looking to play some of the brand new music I’ve been working on this fall with the full septet before the end of the year, if the cruel and capricious dual gods of Booking and Scheduling allow.

In other news, I’m writing music for a new ensemble — a quintet featuring alto sax/clarinet, bass, drums, violin, and yours truly on guitar and miscellany. And everyone will be occasionally shaking and rattling various percussion implements. The players — some veteran collaborators and some new to my music — have all agreed to participate in this new “Gratuitous Narcissistic Pseudo-Musical Experiment Utilizing Live Human Subjects” (to borrow a favorite song title from one of my all time favorite composers, Graham Connah) and I hope it will see the light of day in the near future.

That’s all I’ve got. Any questions from the audience? No? Great.

n.s.c.

Jupiter in August

Late breaking news: quartet versions of my Group will be playing at Jupiter in Downtown Berkeley EVERY TUESDAY IN AUGUST. 8-11 pm. No cover. Great beer and patio. We’ll be stretching out on recent music and some deep cuts from the NCG songbook. Perhaps the occasional guest?

The lineups:
8.4: Kasey Knudsen, Sam Bevan, Jason Levis, NC.
8.11: Kasey Knudsen, Eric Perney, Jason Levis, NC.
8.18: Cory Wright, Eric Perney, Jason Levis, NC.
8.25: Cory Wright, Sam Bevan, Jon Arkin, NC.

Please come join us!

Summer Reading (Optional)

Not much to note at the moment but I’ve always found a stale News page to be an eyesore and to somewhat erode my confidence in an artist’s corporeal existence. So, now that you’ve been properly advised that your valuable browsing time is probably better spent searching for cat videos, trying to instigate a mutually satisfying Twitter beef with your personal cultural critic bete noir (may I recommend that soft focus dimwit David Brooks, the Dave Matthews of the opinion pages?), or taking that irresistible click-bait quiz to determine ‘Which Ethnic Condiment’ your personality most closely resembles, here’s some fresh Nathan Clevenger Group quasi-news:

Over the past 2 months, my now-septet played tremendously enjoyable gigs at Spice Monkey (thanks, Oakland Freedom Jazz series!) and the Makeout Room (thanks, Makeout Monday series!), in which we have continued to debut new compositions at a frankly alarming pace. We welcomed new clarinetist Rachel Condry to the group, and she acquitted herself brilliantly, both as a musician and by sassing me almost immediately during our first rehearsal. Thanks to some typical summer scheduling hassles, my beloved full-blown Band Members (Kasey KnudsenSam BevanJon ArkinCory Wright, and Jason Levis) were joined and/or subbed for by guest stars both familiar (tenor genius/adjunct band member Marcus Stephens, whom I just last night heard the equally mighty Evan Francis refer to, appropriately, as “the Howitzer”!) and brand new (trumpet master Ian Carey, boldly bring brass to a universe, errr, band where none had gone before).

As you may have noticed, the Group has now carried on with our double-drummer format for every 2015 gig and, barring scheduling or venue spacing issues, this is going to be our regular format going forward. Writing for both Jon Arkin and Jason Levis, and hearing how they blend, improvise, and gracefully handle/enliven even the most thorny written material, has been an incredibly and welcome source of compositional inspiration.

Speaking of double drummers and the heartbreak of E.C.D. (Excessive Composition Disorder), we are fat with new music and severely overdue to record our 3rd album. As I’ve run out of novel ways to open myself up to the possibility of public failure and humiliation, we’re almost certainly going to plunge into the world of crowd funding in the next few months, I’m deeply excited about the options we have for a potential track list and I think this will be a really interesting record and an important document of the group’s development. Expect the septet lineup on every tune (except that clarinet solo piece) and, if all goes according to plan, we are also planning on welcoming in a small handful of distinguished guests. When the crowd funding call goes out (I somehow imagine myself blowing into a conch shell?), I sincerely hope that you will consider contributing! More soon on this front, with a little luck.

As for gigs, I am not sure what’s next on the agenda — for the first time in recent memory, we having nothing on the books! It’s a disconcerting feeling, made more acute upon surveying the fairly grim Bay Area venue situation of the moment. Almost too many closures to keep track of — it feels like every week brings another. It would appear that SF brogrammers aren’t that into local (esp non-DJ) live music, period, while, across the bay, the carpetbagging hipster set seems ever more fully engaged in their efforts to wish Oakland into some kind of twee indie JV version of Williamsburg, NY circa 2004. Maybe there will be a spike of venues in Martinez?? We’ll see! If I’ve learned anything in my — gulp — 22 years as a musician performing in the Bay Area, the only constant is change. And riches. Two constants. I forgot.


Yours in Plenty,

n.s.c.

Switchboard and Beyond

Greetings from 2015!

What can I say…it’s been a while. This cursed/blessed (individual mileage may vary) radio silence is largely a function of the fact that recent progress has been mostly under the radar or non-public-facing, if you will. We had a gig fall through last minute in November and, due to my conscientious and/or foolhardy gig-scheduling policy, got left in the lurch with 2 months and change of downtime between gigs. Thankfully, this gave me an opportunity to spend some additional time writing and refining a lot of new music specifically designed for our 2-drummer format, some of which was debuted at a very fun show at Oakland’s Studio Grand in January. But that was then and, if there’s one thing I seem to dimly recall learning from the unnamed reanimated ’80s Stockbroker Guy’ in that one episode of ‘Futurama’, we should be sharks and sharks don’t look back because they have no necks. Heavy.

Hence, Looking Forward, an inspirational exercise in 2 non-rhyming parts:

1. SWITCHBOARD FESTIVAL

On April 4th, I am deeply honored to be bringing an expanded version of my band to this year’s edition of the vital Switchboard Music Festival, at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. This festival has made an incredible contribution to the bay area scene since its inception and it’s humbling to see our names on a bill with so many amazing ensembles, performers, and colleagues. The festival starts at 2 pm and we’re on around 4:45, playing a set of new and recent music (heavily focused on work featuring our recent double-drummer lineup).

The band I’m bringing to this gig is a true embarrassment of riches:

Kasey Knudsen: alto sax

Phillip Greenlief: tenor sax, clarinet

Marcus Stephens: tenor sax, clarinet

Aaron Novik: bass clarinet, clarinet

Sam Bevan: bass

Jon Arkin: drums

Jason Levis: drums, glockenspiel, percussion

Nathan Clevenger: guitar

This is our first ever gig as an octet, and everyone other than Phillip is either a long-standing member of the group or a regular guest star. I must say that it’s particularly thrilling to have Phillip on board to help us weather Cory Wright’s absence – Phillip is not only a great long time friend but also a true mentor and inspiration, going back to my first real encounters with the local music scenes as a green 20 year old, and the man behind a staggering amount of the best music and best live music curation the bay area has seen in recent decades. We’ve played together a couple times over the years, but this is the first time he’ll be joining us for a full set of my music. Scary. Thrilling. Scarilling.

Don’t miss this show!

Tickets

More info

Me gabbing about the gig on a podcast.

 

2. STAFFING

A little over a year ago, we started adding a 2nd percussionist to the band for most of our gigs – either Jordan Glenn on vibraphone/percussion or Jason Levis on 2nd drum set/percussion – making us an ever-more-impractical but, I daresay, more-mighty-than-ever juggernaut. Or ensemble, depending on your taste for grandiose verbiage. This experiment (not to mention the people involved) has completely reinvigorated me as a composer, and we plan to continue to work with this format for the bulk of our forthcoming gigs and recording projects.

In less positive personnel news, Aaron Novik, our dear friend and founding member dating back to 2003, recently relocated to New York. While we’re fortunate to have him back for the Switchboard gig (and hopefully whenever schedules permit going forward) we’re left, again, with the unenviable task of replacing a great relocating member of the core sextet (it’s a proud lineage: Ches Smith, Tim Bulkley, Mitch Marcus, Sylvain Carton, Evan Francis, Aaron Novik). I’ve decided that, for the time being, we’re going to play the field, so to speak, with the 3rd ‘horn’ seat. The core quintet of the band will remain Kasey Knudsen, Cory Wright, Sam Bevan, Jon Arkin, and myself, supplemented with either Jordan Glenn or Jason Levis on most gigs. For the foreseeable future, this core will be joined by a different member of the ostensible ‘frontline’ for each gig. It could be almost anyone: a violinist…a vocalist…a vtrumpet player… I hope that this variety will be as enjoyable for audience members as I know it will be for me as a composer. Stay tuned! For the first post-Switchboard gig, we’ll be featuring the extraordinary clarinetist Rachel Condry! Rachel is a master musician and it’s really exciting to get to welcome her into our musical world in June.

That’ll do for now. I hope to be back with updates on our next recording project and more gigs soon…thanks for sticking with us. Important note: no matter how much the ‘News’ section here may languish, rest assured that I update the Gigs page immediately, whenever we confirm a gig. It is never out of date.

Best,

n.c.

7>6 or 2014: The Long Fade

Oh, hello. Thanks for dropping in. What do I have to say for myself…

Barring a last minute, irresistible gig offer, we are down to a mere 2 more gigs in 2014! Musically speaking, it’s been an exciting and expansive year and, in that spirit, we’ll be expanding to a septet on each of these gigs. Unfortunately, I most likely will need to take a little bit of a hiatus following our November gig, so please come catch us while you can. The band has been in great form on recent gigs, if I do say so myself, and it’s good to be finishing the year with 2 interesting hits, each with special significance.

(As always, please see the Gigs page for full details.)

1. OCTOBER 12, BERKELEY ARTS

First up, it’s our final gig at the Berkeley Arts space. Starting with our first gig there in November 2011, the Nathan Clevenger Group has played six gigs in this great room, not to mention several gigs I played with assorted special side projects. We’ve welcomed guests (Jason Levis, Lorin Benedict) and debuted a lot of new music over the years. While Bonnie Hughes has been the benevolent driving force behind this space, our main connection to the venue has always been my good friend/fountain of inspiration and sage advice, Phillip Greenlief. Phillip made it clear that this was a space where we should feel at home to experiment and develop, and it’s been an invaluable opportunity. It’s only appropriate that we’re sharing the bill on our final gig here with Phillip’s brilliant long-running trio, The Lost Trio (with Dan Seamans & Tom Hassett), a band with whom we share a long, fruitful association and who are celebrating the recent release of a great album of Monk music. Please come on out!

For our set, the regular sextet – Kasey Knudsen, Cory Wright, Aaron Novik, Sam Bevan, Jon Arkin, and me – will be joined by the masterful Jordan Glenn on vibraphone and percussion. Jordan has played drums in the band before and sat in on vibes at our Center for New Music gig in July, and this will be a chance to try out this formation (which I hope to come back to frequently going forward) for a full set.

There is one more, rather bittersweet reason that this is a significant gig: it is the final gig that Aaron Novik will be playing with us before relocating to New York. When I moved back to the Bay Area in 2003 — following my own New York stint — I had my new rhythm section in mind (having already played with original Group members Sam Bevan and Ches Smith), but I was at a loss for the 2 horns I knew I wanted. One thing I did know was that I needed a bass clarinet. I soon saw Aaron play, for the first time, subbing for Ben Goldberg on a gig by the great Graham Connah’s Jettison Slinky ensemble, and knew he was the man for the job. Aaron played on our first gig in 2003 and has been on 50 other Group gigs in the years since, which doesn’t even take into account gigs with my trio or gigs and recordings as part of his Cutting Guard, Samuel Suite, and other ensembles. I’ve played a lot of music with Aaron over the years, and we’ve talked a lot of music, talked a lot of literature, talked a lot period, shared many a meal/drink, and shamelessly violated various international wordplay treaties to the consternation of bandmates and friends. He is a brilliant composer and musician and an influence and he’ll be sorely missed. You win this round, New York…

2. NOVEMBER 19, STUDIO GRAND

Our first gig at Studio Grand! As a kid growing up in Oakland and frequenting the Grand Lake area, I would have been extremely skeptical if you’d told me that there would someday be a functioning creative music venue located in the heart of this neighborhood. Shows what I knew. I’ve seen some outstanding shows in this relatively new space and I’m excited to bring the band here for the first time, on a bill presented by the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society. To celebrate, we are joined by long-time fellow traveler Jason Levis on 2nd drum set and percussion! Jason — just returned from a few years in Berlin — is someone I’ve worked with for a long time in many contexts and it’s always a treat. This is the 3rd time he’s joined us on 2nd drums (you may recall his very memorable performance at our CD release gig last year) and it’s one of my favorite formations – he and Jon have a great hookup. Taking over for the departed Aaron Novik for this gig is another frequent collaborator, Aram Shelton. Aram is one of the bay area’s great reed players and I always love what he brings to the band.

Please come on out and have a listen to what we’re working on! Live music needs you and, dammit, we need you … (pause for appropriate human emotional response) … thanks for reading!

NC Septet CNM

News will out…

Hello and thanks for stopping in.

With our post-Center for New Music vacation coming to an end late this month, allow me to ramble about things to come:

On September 1st, the Nathan Clevenger Group (Kasey Knudsen, Cory Wright, Aaron Novik, Sam Bevan & Jon Arkin) will be making another appearance as part of the Makeout Monday series at the Makeout Room (in the Mission, SF). This is a long-running series and a great hang that we’re always profoundly happy to participate in. It’s always fun to hear the other bands on the bill and I’m sure this edition will be no exception.

On October 12th, we play our final gig at the Berkeley Arts space on University Ave in Berkeley, closing shop at the end of the month. This has been a great venue for us since 2011, hosting a number of gigs by the Group (including the CD release gig for our 2nd album) as well as several smaller ensembles I’ve put together (most recently the trio of Kasey, Michael Coleman and myself). All around musical master and scene lynchpin Phillip Greenlief has been unceasingly generous and supportive in bringing us into this venue and programming such great music overall. Thanks, PG!

For this last Berkeley Arts gig, the regular Group will be joined by Jordan Glenn on vibraphone for the full set! We experimented with this septet lineup on a couple of tunes at our last gig and I liked it so much that we’re going to try to make it a semi-regular thing. We’ll be playing a set of new and recent tunes and sharing a bill with the great, ever-vital Lost Trio (Greenlief/Seamans/Hassett, as you most likely know).

If that’s not enough, we’ll also be playing a fun gig at Jupiter in Berkeley on August 23rd, in a unique quintet version of the band featuring regulars Kasey Knudsen and Jon Arkin as well as Aram Shelton (clarinet & tenor sax) and Eric Perney (bass), a couple of great players, both of whom have joined us a number of times over the years. Jupiter gigs are a great chance for us to spread out over the course of 3 sets, indulge in longer solos and revisit older tunes we rarely play on other gigs. Also, beer!

I love playing sideman gigs and it’s been very much my honor to become a member – or adjunct faculty, at least – of Karl Evangelista’s Host Family this year. Karl is a phenomenal guitarist and composer and this long-running group also features the magical rhythm section of Jason Hoopes and Jordan Glenn. Every gig with this band has been an outright thrashing blast and I get my 3rd shot at Berkeley Arts on October 22nd. You should see this band!

Finally, I’m just now beginning to conceptualize and plan/budget for Nathan Clevenger Group album number 3. I’m hoping it will be done and released within the next 12 months (ambition!). The plan at the moment is for half of the album to feature the sextet while the other adds Jordan Glenn on vibes & percussion. Wish us luck and forgive us if our trespasses take the form of a crowd funding drive in the near future.

Thank you for reading.

n.s.c.

Center for New Music videos

Here are a few videos from our July gig at the San Francisco Center for New Music — all unreleased and mostly new tunes destined for our next album, featuring Kasey Knudsen, Cory Wright, Aaron Novik, Sam Bevan, Jon Arkin, Nathan Clevenger and, on the final tune, guest Jordan Glenn:

THE BALLAD OF BRUCE BOCHTE

EUCALYPTUS

WHALER’S INK

MORNINGS IN FEUDAL JAPAN

Thanks to Lisa Mezzacappa!