Stateless Liner Notes 6/10: Eucalyptus


6/10: Eucalyptus

This tune is one of several specifically Oakland based stories on this album. People who know my personal history and see the title of our previous song — ‘Things We Kept from the Fire” — have asked if that song is about my house burning down when I was a teenager. As you, loyal liner note reader, will know, it is not…but this one is. ‘Eucalyptus’ aims to reflect both the ominous dread of the inexorably approaching conflagration (fun note: I first learned the word ‘conflagration’ around this time) as well as the eerie beauty, when the meaning of the image could be ignored, of the ashen moonscape left behind. Although they are an Australian import, the smell of eucalyptus trees is the defining smell I associate with my Oakland childhood. It just so happens that the oil in eucalyptus trees tends to explode during fires, a phenomenon witnessed during the large scale blaze that inspired this song. 

Since this is a bay area story touching on my own local history, I’m going to do the section of this entry addressing various minor items in the style (sort of) of the late famed local sports writer Herb Caen, famous for his ‘three dot lounge’ column: 

This tunes vibe was slightly inspired by Julius Hemphill’s masterpiece ‘Dogon AD’…there chord changes on the ‘eerie beauty’ moments of the tune referred to above seem to me to perhaps carry a hint of my deep appreciation for Billy Strayhorn, though the progression is certainly not one he would have used…solos here by yours truly, Tim DeCillis on vibes, and Kasey Knudsen on alto sax…watch your footing on those fleet ⅝ bars…for reasons that completely elude me, founding/longtime Clevenger Group bassist always enjoyed suggesting the alternate title ‘Heavy Petting’ for this tune…Sam’s originally from Utah, so that might have something to do with it…

For a number of years, one of the central sounds of ‘Eucalyptus’ was Aaron Novik’s bass clarinet (Tim takes over Novik’s solo in this current arrangement). The first version of the Nathan Clevenger Group was born while I was living in Brooklyn, and we played a few gigs and a lot of sessions before I returned to my native Bay Area in 2004. In the months leading up to my move, I was already lining up players for a west coast version of the 2-horn quintet I had been leading in New York. For the rhythm section, I was set on the amazing Ches Smith on drums, with whom I had already played briefly and hung with on both coasts, and the aforementioned Sam Bevan, a wildly talented and game bassist I had worked with once just prior to moving east and was eager to work with again (more on him in my next liner note). Ches recommended Mitch Marcus for the tenor saxophone chair, to my immense good fortune. For the 2nd horn, I knew I wanted a bass clarinetist, as it’s my favorite reed instrument, thanks primarily to early exposure to Eric Dolphy and Ben Goldberg, not to mention hearing the horn standing out in countless film scores and coloring certain key Ellington sessions (e.g. Harry Carney on ‘Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins’). Fortuitously, I soon heard Aaron Novik subbing for Ben Goldberg on a gig by the brilliant bay area composer, Graham Connah, and I immediately reached out to him. I delivered the charts for our first rehearsal/gig to Aaron at his regular gig with the band Telepathy (led by saxophonist Patrick Cress) at San Francisco’s London Wine Bar. A couple days later, I found myself coincidentally seated next to Novik (and Cress) on the dreaded, vertiginous Shoreline Amphitheater lawn during a Radiohead concert. Perhaps it was meant to be? Aaron was the Group’s regular clarinet player from 2004 to 2015, appearing on both of our earlier albums before moving back to New York. Aaron has played most of the music on Stateless quite a bit, so it’s rather odd not having him on the album. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to play Aaron’s thorny original music in a couple of his ensembles over the years; some of that music is captured on the beautiful recording ‘The Samuel Suite.’ Novik is one of my very favorite composers and musicians (and conversationalists) and I urge everyone to dig deep into the incredible range of music he has created over the years (he has released more albums — all of an extremely high quality — in the past 6 months than I have in my whole career). If you missed him with the Group, it’s not too late; Aaron is a permanent emeritus member and is always welcome to join us when he is in town (4 horns including 2 bass clarinets is kind of a dream for me).

In conclusion, it’s better if one’s house does not burn down. 

Please stream and purchase the Nathan Clevenger Group album Stateless here.