Nathan Clevenger

Nathan Clevenger GroupThe Evening Earth (Evander, 2010)

Having missed seeing Nathan Clevenger’s band last month, it’s been great listening to them in recorded form on The Evening Earth.

The audience that night certainly liked them. I had the impression this would be peppy, often pretty, and just a little weird. Pretty close.

Clevenger’s writing takes a lot from the swing era, but it’s packed with odd time signatures, twisty compositions, and passages of improvisation that go well beyond the old concept of a solo. On “Gap Embryo,” after Tim Bulkley‘s drum solo, the three horns — two saxes and a clarinet, I think? — swirl along their own, untethered paths, backed by bowed bass and a very light-touch guitar in the corner. That’s followed, quietly, by bassist Sam Bevan knocking strings with the wood side of the bow as part of his solo. So, no, it’s not a plain swing album.

The band’s emphasis is on the horns (saxes and clarinets by Mitch Marcus, Kasey Knudsen, and Aaron Novik). Clevenger himself plays guitar, and for the most part, he’s content to spin little lines and chords from his chair off to the side (literally; his guitar is pushed into the right speaker). It’s an airy sound, sometimes infused with a cowboy twang — especially on “Trellis,” which, when you start concentrating on the springy, old-timey guitar chords backing the solos, starts to take on the knowing smile of slapstick.

The writing generally has a sunny disposition — even the song called “Hopeless” comes with a skip in it step. “Soul Is the Last Refuge of a Scoundrel” combines big-band retro with a driven, almost late-’60s air, while “Gap Embryo” is a 5/4 trickster with some Mingus-like tempo shifts. I also find myself liking the dreamy swing of “Low Resolution,” possibly the straightest track on here.

The horn harmonies frequently recall the big band era, but Clevenger puts lots of creative twists on the concept. You don’t get the breakneck tempos of bebop, but neither is the music frozen in the ’40s; the writing is fresh, and the musicians are given free rein to turn things upside-down, as on Novik’s offbeat, scribbling bass clarinet solo on “Late Kasparov Drives a Cab.” (You have to love these song titles, too.) And something about the heavy use of clarinets creates a circus atmosphere, in a good way. It’s more calm than madcap, but still, something about buoyant clarinets evokes images of tightrope walkers and trapezes.

What Charlie Hunter Says

All About Jazz is running a good interview with guitarist Charlie Hunter, talking about his principles when it comes to playing music; his long-ago brush with the big side of the music industry; and why he doesn’t use the Hammond organ sound on his guitar any more. (“When I hear my old records with that sound, I want to punch that guy in the face. It sounds so cloying to me.”)

Hunter has been on my mind a lot this year because of his association with Go Home. (See earlier posts Ben Goldberg, Charlie Hunter, Go Home; ‘Go Home’ Comes Out; and Subway Series: New York.) It’s a treat to see him live. And it’s great to know that I’m not the only one blown away by Hunter’s trick of playing the bassline and guitar lines, with rich counterpoint, by himself.

They’ve titled the interview “Charlie Hunter: Seven-Stringed Samurai,” and you can find it here.

Hunter also says he’s done with the all-improv Groundtruther, a band featuring himself, Bobby Previte (drums), and a different guest star on each of three albums. That’s OK, because Hunter’s usual funky, rhythm-heavy music is plenty tasty.  His latest album as a leader, Baboon Strength, is well worth a listen.

Ben Goldberg, Charlie Hunter, Go Home

Say … that first track, “Wazee,” on Ben Goldberg’s Myspace page … is that the new band Go Home?


Go ahead, listen. It’s got Goldberg’s clarinet strolling by with a light Klezmer influence. Funky beat like Scott Amendola might lay down. Guitar that sounds like Charlie Hunter. A trumpet that could well be Ron Miles.

Go Home, consisting of those four guys, recently recorded an upcoming CD in New York, as mentioned on Hunter’s blog. And they’ll be playing a few gigs very soon in Northern (including Northern) California:

Thursday, Feb. 5, at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz
Friday, Feb. 6, at Cafe Du Nord, SF, sort of
Saturday, Feb. 7, at the Freight & Salvage, Berkeley
Sunday, Feb. 8, at Throckmorton Theater, Mill Valley
Monday, Feb. 9, at Humboldt State, Arcata

Click the Arcata link for three more tracks: A slower one with a looser feel, a jumbly out-jazz tune heavy on the improvisation, and one with coolly Spanish/Flamenco tones (using my own possibly inaccurate understanding of those terms).

Continue reading “Ben Goldberg, Charlie Hunter, Go Home”