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!

Spring Was Here

Well, I missed a month. I hope that regular readers have managed to fill the gaping content hole I left with assorted journals, blogs, and shampoo bottles.

First and foremost, I want to draw your attention to part two of my exciting 3-part collaboration with Oakland artist Kim Miskowicz, a beautiful film Kim has created to accompany our song “Port o’ Nine Tails” (from Observatory). Please check it out here.

So, what’s been happening since last we talked? We’ve had 3 very special gigs, as anyone visiting this site is hopefully aware.

First, thank you to everyone who came out to our double bill with the excellent Ian Carey Quintet + 1 at The Sound Room in late May. Much to my delight and relief, this gig was a success on all fronts. It was a pleasure to play for a very healthy and engaged crowd in a wonderful space. Ian and I each brought in 3 involved new compositions for our respective bands. In an age (epicenter?) of incessant tribute project/”Plays the Music of…” blight, it felt particularly great to be a part of an evening jam-packed with new, original music presented to a respectable audience. (Far be it from us to get in the way of the local jazz scene/establishment pitching in and giving some needed attention to the music of promising up-and-comers such as Miles Davis, Prince, et al…)

Next up, at Berkeley Arts in mid-June, I debuted a new trio featuring myself, longtime collaborator Kasey Knudsen and pianist Michael Coleman. I love the way this lineup came together – performing creatively reduced versions of tunes from my sextet book and some rarely-played older tunes for previous smaller ensembles – and I am dedicated to making it happen more in the future, even though Michael is moving to New York (a blow to the band, the local scene and the local jazz baseball league). Stay tuned…

The 3rd gig might have been the biggest of them all…a night of my music for several ensembles as part of the San Francisco Center for New Music’s “Best Coast Composer Series” just this past weekend. I presented a series of solo winds pieces played by Cory Wright, a brand new extended work for improvising quartet (featuring Cory, vibraphonist/drummer Jordan Glenn, bassist Sam Bevan, and myself on piano and guitar), and a full set of new and recent music by my eponymous sextet with Jordan guesting on several tunes. I hope you were there and, if not, hope to have some videos up soon. It was a great night and a great honor. I can’t thank the members of my sextet enough for their incredible work, dedication and good humor over so many years, gigs, and on this night: Sam Bevan (bass since 2003), Aaron Novik (clarinets since 2003), Kasey Knudsen (alto sax since 2007), Jon Arkin (regular drummer since 2010, playing with us as far back as 2005), and Cory Wright (reeds galore since 2012). It’s overwhelming to have such talented people bringing the music and band to life and elevating everything year after year. Thank you!

After all of this activity, I am dedicated to pretty much taking the rest of this month and August off (barring any sideman gigs you may feel like offering me). I’ll be back in this space with tales of the things to come early next month, so please do check back. In the meantime, the calendar page has the basic facts re: our upcoming gigs. One thing to note: the October gig will feature Jordan playing vibraphone for the whole set!

Thanks for reading. Hope to see you at a gig.

n.s.c. 

In Which I Call in Reinforcements

My pledge to update my website news every month is a harsh mistress, it turns out…last day of the month and another short and semi-sweet entry.

Item no. 1:

May 23rd, my Group is playing a double bill with Ian Carey’s Quintet +1 at Oakland’s Sound Room (see the Gigs page for complete info)! Ian is a local composer for whom I have the highest respect…he’s one of those people who pushes every composer who hears his music to try harder, dig deeper, and get serious, already. He also has great taste in musicians (in a perhaps related bit of news, we share several band members). I’m incredibly excited about this gig. We’ll be playing an unusually long set with 3 brand new tunes and a lot of recent music. Ian and his band will be amazing — trust me. Please don’t miss this night!

Item no. 2:

“A life confined to what is personal is likely, sooner or later, to become unbearably painful; it is only by windows into a larger and less fretful cosmos that the more tragic parts of life become endurable.” – Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness

Item no. 3:

I recently released — sort of — an album of music I created for a podcast a couple years ago. The album — Stern Birds — is a one-man-band affair and is insanely low-fi. Every bit of it was recorded in my apartment. While my normal music matches elaborately conceived and neurotically detailed written material with some of the finest improvisers alive, this music was created off-the-cuff and performed by a man with minimal command over many of the instruments involved. Soooo, if you’re still curious, you can download the album from my bandcamp page. It’s free, but you can also elect to pay me for it!

Item no. 4:

 “River”, by Frank O’Hara (from Meditations in an Emergency):

Whole days would go by, and later their years,
while I thought of nothing but its darkness
drifting like a bridge against the sky.
Day after day I dreamily sought its melancholy,
its searchings, its soft banks enfolded me,
and upon my lengthening neck its kiss
was murmuring like a wound. My very life
became the inhalation of its weedy ponderings
and sometimes in the sunlight my eyes,
walled in water, would glimpse the pathway
to the green sea. For it was there I was being borne.
Then for a moment my strengthening arms
would cry out upon the leafy crest of air
like whitecaps, and lightning, swift as pain,
would go through me on its way to the forest,
and I’d sink back upon the brutal tenderness
that bore me on, that held me like a slave
in its liquid distances of eyes, and one day,
though weeping for my caresses, would abandon me,
moment of infinitely salty air! Sun fluttering
like a signal! Upon the open flesh of the world.

Lost and Found

Just making it in time for a March update and it’s going to be a quick one:

 

On April 9th we are back at the Berkeley Arts space (downtown; 2133 University Avenue) for a double bill with The Lost Trio (Phillip Greenlief, Dan Seamans and Tom Hassett). We first shared a bill with this eminent trio back in 2004 and I’m glad these bills have been a regular feature over the past decade. We’ll be playing 1 set of new and recent music, including (I think) 3 debuts. Jon Arkin is out of town, so the regular band (Kasey Knudsen, Cory Wright, Aaron Novik and Sam Bevan) will be joined by the brilliant drummer Jordan Glenn, always a treat. Show is at 8 – hope to see you there.

 

Speaking of the Berkeley Arts space, I’ve just gotten around to posting 4 videos from our CD release gig back in October. Most of these feature an expanded edition of the band, supplemented by guest 2nd drummer Jason Levis. Check them out if you like:

 

O Syracuse

Mornings in Feudal Japan

Dia de los Monos

Things We Kept from the Fire

 

Next up is a double bill with the incredible trumpet player/composer Ian Carey at the Sound Room in May! More on that soon.

 

n.c.

Critical Engagement / Critical Engagements

Ahhh February…as the saying goes, it comes in like a common grackle and goes out like a lion, passing the leonine baton to March, naturally. Enough science. This is about music.

 

The most exciting news since we last checked in was an extremely nice — not to mention uncommonly perceptive — review from distinguished Bay Area music scribe Andrew Gilbert. Andrew reviewed our new album, Observatory, on the KQED (NPR) program The California Report. You can read or listen to the review here at their site. It’s easily the best and most insightful review I’ve ever had the pleasure to receive — Andrew’s got ‘big ears’, as they say. As if that were not enough, Mr. Gilbert also did us the honor of citing us as one of his ‘Top Local Bands’ on a ‘Bands to Watch in 2014’ edition of KQED’s Forum.

 

We’re off in March and coming back with a gig on April 9th at the Berkeley Arts space and I hope you’ll come out for what promises to be a special night. The regular band (Kasey Knudsen, Cory Wright, Aaron Novik, Sam Bevan) is joined by genius drummer Jordan Glenn (subbing for Jon Arkin), always a treat. We’ll be sharing the bill with The Lost Trio (divisible to the following component parts: Phillip Greenlief, Dan Seamans and Tom Hassett), one of the bay area’s most long-running and respected working ensembles. Phillip is someone I consider an inspiration, a friend and a valued mentor in so many ways. Dan was a member of New Klezmer Trio, whose “Melt Zonk Rewire” album was a pivotal one for me when I discovered it as a callow collegiate chump. Tom, Dan and Phillip have a deep musical bond and, between their excellence and my own history with them, you can imagine what an honor it is to share a bill, as we have many times over the years. (In fact, the west coast Nathan Clevenger Group’s 2nd gig ever, back in 2004, was a double-bill with the Lost Trio at the late, lamented Jazz House.)

 

A couple of the plans that I’ve been cagily alluding to on this site for the past couple months are taking shape and can now be discussed in more detail:

 

We have set up a double-bill with the sextet of composer/trumpeter Ian Carey! The gig is on May 23rd at the Sound Room in Oakland. Ian is one of my favorite local composers and someone I’m always inspired by — I daresay we share a lot of the same preoccupations, musically, and he’s way ahead of the curve in so many ways. We also share a few band members so it should be an interesting contrast! I can’t wait.

 

Kim Miskowicz (brilliant artist and the woman behind the “Observatory” album art) and I are collaborating on 2 film/music projects this year, featuring new music and music from my most recent album. More information soon, but we’re hoping they’ll be done and ready to premiere by early fall.

 

Thank you for visiting and for reading. Until March,

 

n.s.c.

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