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.