Nathan Hubbard
Skeleton Key Orchestra
Circumvention Music 039A/B (2004)





(circ 039A/B)
Woodwinds: Lee Elderton, Ellen Weller, Adnan Marquez, Jason Robinson, Ward Baxter, Gabriel Sundy, Jay Easton
Brass: Isaac Tubb, Karl Soukup, Angela House, Eric Sbar, Steve Vertigan, Michael Dessen. Scott Kyle, Alex Panos, Derrick Oliver
Strings: Gascia Ouzounian, Adam Ainsworth, Louis Caverly, Al Scholl, Jon Garner, Jarrod Chilton, Justin Grinnell, Joscha Oetz, Scott Walton, Leah Meadows
Keyboard instruments: Christopher Adler, Stephanie Robinson, Scott Walton
Percussion: Harris Eisenstadt, Nathan Hubbard, Jon Szanto, James Burton, Curtis Glatter, Marcos Fernandes, Darren Evans
Electronics: Damon Holzborn, Stephanie Robinson, Marcelo Radulovich, Marcos Fernandes, Nathan Hubbard, Ward Baxter, Jason Robinson
Poetry: Shannon Perkins, Nathan Hubbard

Disc 1:
Is That You (Earl)?/Dogs Don't Bark at Ghosts
Sleeping Against Other Warnings (Limited Only by Our Dreams)
East on 53rd Street
Disc 2 :
A Murder of Crows
Making My Way Thru It/Waiting in Vain
Next Love (All Things Want to Fly)
Don't Look Says the Crow (I Don't Believe You)

2-CD large ensemble recording featuring prominent voices in Southern California's improvised and creative music world.
Skeleton Key Orchestra draws upon a wide cross section of Southern California's improvised and creative music world. Nathan Hubbard's compositions seamlessly blur the distinction between improvisation and composition and highlight the strengths of the 35+ members of the orchestra. In the tradition of jazz and large ensembles, Hubbard's music is influenced by the free jazz ensembles of Ornette Coleman, Mike Mantler, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and William Parker, the european ensembles led by Barry Guy, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Tony Oxley, Evan Parker, Wolfgang Fuchs, Peter Brotzmann and Pierre Favre as well as the West Coast ensembles led by Vinny Golia, Glenn Spearmen, Jeff Kaiser, Marco Eneidi, Scott Rosenberg, the NOW orchestra and the sorely missed New Art Orchestra. The music traverses an array of territories, from complex grooves to surreal electronic landscapes, free-wheeling high-energy collective improvisation to meditative woodwind fugues, improvised street marches to minimalistic repetition.

purchasing -


reviews of Nathan Hubbard Skeleton Key Orchestra (CMCD039A-B)

By far Nathan Hubbard's most ambitious project to date, this 2-CD set presents over two and a half hours of music performed by his Skeleton Key Orchestra, a shape-shifting large big band of West Coast jazz players and free improvisers. The instrumentation includes lots of saxophones, trombones and acoustic basses, along with guitars, more strings, lots of percussion, and occasional electronics from members of the Trummerflora collective (namely Marcelo Radulovich, Marcos Fernandes and Damon Holzborn). Hubbard's writing leaves plenty of room for creative solo improvisations and structured/conducted group improvisations, but it is anchored in a firm jazz basis, with elements of Ellington, Coltrane and Ayler shining through. Frank Zappa's big band writing is not far either, along with some Latin American flavors. But all those influences have been digested and integrated in Hubbard's very own style, a style that owes a lot to contemporary classical, free jazz and European free improvisation. The music is lively yet complex, and the long pieces (nothing under 11 minutes, two of them over the half-hour mark) go through several mood swings, from romantic melodiesto raucous avant-jazz heads and rockish riffs, to downright collective (controlled) chaos. Manifests range from 10 players to three times as much.
Highlights are numerous, as there is not a single weak piece in here, and include the punchy opener Is That You (Earl)?/Dogs Don¹t Bark at Ghosts, the schizophrenic East on 53rd Street (featuring Radulovich on electronics and an introductory Latin fiesta), and the string-septet-plus-twin-drummers Next Love (All Things Want to Fly). Sound quality is surprisingly good considering the number of musicians involved -- and the typical budget of a small independent label like Circumvention. The orchestra is panned wide, it sounds rich, dense, and pretty hard to tame, but tameable. It is so easy to flunk a large-scale project, but Hubbard comes out of this one a born leader with a clear and original vision. Skeleton Key Orchestra is one of the most generous, consistently provoking and rewarding albums of 2004.

François Couture/All Music Guide

Delire Actuel's Top 20 albums of 2004

And the winners are...

1. Magma / K.A (Kohntarkosz Anteria) (Seventh)
2. John Shiurba / Adobe (Spool)
3. Nathan Hubbard / Skeleton Key Orchestra (Circumvention)
4. Natsuki Tamura / Ko Ko Ko Ke (NatSat)
5. Ernesto Rodrigues & al. / Cesura (Creative Sources)
6. Jaap Blonk & al. / Five Men Singing (Victo)
7. Faust & Dälek / Derbe, alder respect (Staubgold)
8. Joel Ryan / Or Air (Psi)
9. Tim Brady / Playing Guitar (Ambiances Magnétiques)
10. The Phonographers¹ Union / Live at Sonarchy Radio (Accretions)
11. Gail Brand & Morgan Guberman / Ballgames & Crazy (Emanem)
12. Ahvak / Ahvak (Cuneiform)
13. Daniel Heïkalo: Musique pour guitare... (Heïkalo Sound Productions)
14. Martin Archer / Heritage & Ringtones (Discus)
15. Philip Jeck & Janek Schaefer / Songs for Europe (Asphodel)
16. John Butcher & Gino Robair / New Oakland Burr (Rastacan)
17. +minus (Bernhard Günter, Graham Halliwell & Mark Wastell) / First
Meeting (Trente Oiseaux)
18. Evelyn Petrova / Year¹s Cycle (Leo Records)
19. Norbert Möslang / lat_nc (For 4 Ears)
20. Brian Woodbury / Variety Orchestra (ReR Megacorp)

Francois Couture
Writer, journalist (All-Music Guide), translator, proofreader.
Producer of Delire Actuel and Delire Musical, CFLX.


Paris Transatlantic Magazine April 2005

JAZZ - Nathan Hubbard SKELETON KEY ORCHESTRA Circumvention 039A-B 2CD
Any large ensemble recording is an ambitious undertaking, but a double CD featuring no fewer than 36 musicians (on instruments as diverse as prepared pianos, pipe organs, harps, laptops and dopplerophones, whatever they are) is nothing less than heroic. Not only that, but this one cooks from beginning to end, and stands as one of the most vibrant documents of the lively San Diego new music scene. Nathan Hubbard shares percussion duties with, amongst others, Harris Eisenstadt, Curtis Glatter, James Burton and Jon Szanto, but he's no slouch when it comes to writing and arranging. The eight extended – I mean extended: "Raincastle" lasts 34'19" and "A Murder Of Crows" 36'22" – compositions are superbly crafted and performed with great musicality and attention to detail. The whole history of jazz / improvised music large ensemble work is referenced, from the filigree flutes of Gil Evans to the epic arching lines of Alan Silva's Celestrial Communication Orchestra (comparisons might also be made with Globe Unity, Scott Rosenberg's Creative Orchestra Music and Coat Cooke's NOW Orchestra, not to mention Harry Partch and the early Mothers of Invention), but this is no mere exercise in stylistic homage. Incorporating field recordings, poetry (Shannon Perkins on "Sleeping Against Other Warnings" and Hubbard himself on "Poltergeist - for Albert Ayler") and the electronics of Trummerflora mainstays Marcelo Radulovich and Marcos Fernandes, not to mention some highly creative post-production – damn, you're paying for a studio, you might as well use it – Hubbard provides not just a snapshot but a whole photo album of today's American creative improvised music. Unlike Silva's epic 4CD HR57 Treasure Box, which inevitably comes across as an All Star Band (you find yourself constantly referring to the liners to find out who's blowing, if it isn't immediately apparent), nobody's out to showboat in the Skeleton Key Orchestra, though there are some wicked solos: Gabe Sundy's gritty baritone in the opening "Is That You (Earl)?", Ellen Weller's slinky flute on "Sleeping.." and Ward Baxter's sexy sandalwood tenor on the same track, to name but three. Sure, like life, there are some longueurs – "A Murder of Crows" in particular goes through a sticky patch (not surprisingly given how strongly it kicks off) – but there are some truly delicious moments along the way. Check out how the gnarly double bass trio towards the end of "Raincastle" segues into Jon Garner's exquisite guitar solo, or how the raw jungle funk that opens "East on 53rd Street" slips into some polished studio funk (yo! Eddie Harris eat your heart out!). It's a huge, dense set and one that will keep your ears busy, your feet tapping and your neighbours howling with joy until summertime. Reach for the key. —DW

Nathan Hubbard - SKELETON KEY ORCHESTRA: We reviewed some of Nathan's crisp & tasty jazz/improv drum works (last summer, I believe), but he's outdone himself with this double CD (from Circumvention Music - This is some of the most inspired improvisation I've ever heard (& as regular readers know, I've heard, & played, a LOT of improvised music). One of the most attractive features of th' music(s) on Nathan's CD's is that the pieces are sort of "split"... a rhythm/pattern will kick off, & you'll go groovin' along, only to find that it is "interrupted" by (what you think is) a totally different piece... but when you check th' tracking, it's still on th' track it started from. What's cool about this is that after the 3rd or 4th listening, you "catch on", & realize that the second (or third or fourth) part(s) belonged together. One of the things I really, REALLY dug on this outing was the poetry pieces woven in... the tracks are really LONG (one of them clocks in at over 36 minutes), too, so in order to totally experience th' sonic picture they're painting for your ears, you must reserve a couple of hours. Don't expect to (be able to) absorb this one "on the fly". This is (actually) the first "big band improv" album I've reviewed this year - but the levels of creativity & talent displayed already make it the PICK of '04 for "best improvised band"! Definitely MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. - Rotcod Zzaj - Improvijazzation Nation

Nathan Hubbard Skeleton Key Orchestra 2xCD (Circumvention) An excess of riches. I love Hubbard's inventive improvisational percussion style, and this set of eight lengthy pieces (the number of players alone justify the "orchestra" appellation) shows off his musical instincts to their fullest. An ever-challenging and inventive series of works. -Aiding and Abbetting


(babblefish translation)

Ragazzi, Volkmar Mantei

On the two CDs of the new Nathan Hubbard of work "Skeleton key Orchestra" there are straight once 8 TRACKS. The shortest over 11 minutes long, the longest well over 30. Those almost unsurpassably FATS occupation list worked, one can come before the benefit of hearing the music on the two CDs into sweating: which for a program! Which for a material battle! Did the also good microphones for the recording use? Didn't the Blechblaeser stand only beside the Holzblaesern? The Streicher with Marimba, bell play and Maracas? The electrical guitar beside the electronics engineer? Over 35 musicians in some the pieces were involved: at many wind instruments, stringed instruments, key board, different Perkussion, Electronics. How does one write arrangements for such a large ensemble? Besides: in the improvisativen music, which partly composes for this work, but comes oneself nevertheless to a large extent from the energy of the group and, Trance, up-swung, carried from the particular as from the group? Nathan Hubbard, schlagzeuger and head of this enterprise, struck certainly itself some nights around the ears, in order to master this complex work - and is probably with each problem solution encountered three new problems. What courage belongs to, however which engineer-technical achievement to arrange and accomplish this adventure? The sound of the pieces is excellently, even in the excited Freejazz attacks, which sound wildly and heart-pounding dynamic grandios, as if the Eiffel tower would swing that one solidifies to stone. Likewise in the quiet, intimate moments, in the Soli and amazingly melodischen passages.

All ring around the music marvelously succeeded and one arranged masterful. But the music, exceeds these things nearly small beside it insignificant and far. That begins with the Virtuositaet of the first piece, in the suddenly starting force of the dramatically cracking TRACK. The enormous, exaltierte unloading of clenched tonal and sound structure atonaler in the maximum points walk trembling from the boxes. And then the Orgie of the noise disintegrates into wondrously moved, excited harmonies implemented by filigranen refinement. The ensemble sound swells off, after it made the ears free, let in into the world of abstract sounds, far off the general commercial noise. And one reveals Quality, which particularly is. It is a desire to listen to these musicians. These clearly noted sounds, knarzigen, self-willed sounds, brittle tones, melodischen idioms, those amazingly many style levels abklappern, without obeying also only one style. New music finds here large area, sometimes to radio and skirt and again and again the virtuos abstract language of the free, modern jazz. Words cannot show that. Who has ears, which hears. Which at variety and structure in this concept are to be heard, is grandios. The projecting ability of the individual musicians into the small and large groups is phaenomenal. And in some parts it seems inconceivable that this clearly outlined, considered structure should be improvisativ. It is, the interpreters is from astonishing inspiration.

The sounds on CD2 begin similarly. Again the first part swells enormously on, constructs themselves largely and more largely, tears and pulls with full, passionate ensemble sound at the conception of harmony. And concretized and structures itself relaxed in various way in the further process. The pieces are as from a casting, the transition nearly insignificant, the energy do not set off not, in order to find a new approach, but remain the entire minutes over existing, in a broad sound language and style ignoring width, phaenomenal, because is not easily conceivable. Simply beautifully to be always surprised without the whole improvisation, which is complete interpretation of this conception of harmony well-known structure or goes on paths already committed. No trace! That is an adventure, to which one needs and with many experiences is recompenced courage! There can be more beautiful?!
And to the end the listener will dismiss a rising of the tones, radicalizing the harmony, multiplying the volume by further large swelling of the ochestra, Rise the tones, radicalizing the harmony, multiplying the volume dismisses, back into the everyday life, into the silence, into the noise. But loaded with this work to meet fully energy and spirit, the Tristesse.
long Nathan Hubbard loads 180 minutes in to follow its musical horizon and take all hurdles, if it goes from decaying jazz to new music, from electronics to skirt, from Free jazz to avant-garde. But one can forget everything, mothball only hear and sink all expectations.

Absolute recommendation!

Nathan Hubbard "Skeleton Key Orchestra" (Circumvention Music)

Aptly titled; this feels like an orchestra made of animated bones making this arcane psychedelic big band free jazz sound that can narrow itself down to a two person conversation or a solo, only to swell to thirty five or more players all acting as one fluid and fluent organism. A double disc set of extended tracks; a couple well over half an hour in length. Wildly free jazz passages seamlessly bleed into formulated or purely telepathic sections of perfect harmony. This feels like a series of colorful sonic storms with Hubbard doing his percussion center around which multitudes of brass, woodwinds, bass, harps, pipe organ, cello, basses, strings, etc.all swirl intertwine and roll around and through. They can also elquently maintain a mood, as they do on the over fifteen minute melodic reverie entitled: "Sleeping Against Other Warnings (Limited Only By Our Dreams)" which opens onto an erotic female spoken word section. But, elsewhere they are more unbounded and expressive. There are even a few moments that recall "Red" era King Crimson, or a seasick Sun Ra Arkestra expelling extraterrestrial detritus. - George Parsons Dream Magazine #5

NATHAN HUBBARD Skeleton Key Orchestra Circumvention 039 A-B Perhaps it’s the number of music schools in California, the dissatisfaction musicians in the West have with regular commercial gigs they have, or a Left Coast insistence on group companionship, but the number of big – make it massive – bands extant seems to have grown exponentially there in recent years. Los Angeles-based multi-reedist Vinny Golia has one, drummer Adam Rudolph’s Organic Orchestra is another in the Bay area, and trumpeter Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet works out of Ventura – and there are others. Individually though, percussionist Nathan Hubbard’s San Diego-based Skeleton Key Orchestra (SKO), is unique in many respects. Most of the other aggregations are usually staffed by veteran pros and pretty Free Jazz-oriented. SKO, organized in 2001 by Hubbard, a member of the Trummerflora Collective, combines players of a number of San Diego’s creative music ensembles, most of whom have some association with the University of South California at San Diego. Building on the wide-ranging interests of these young performers, the eight compositions here reflect not only Free Jazz, Free Music and so-called contemporary serious music, but also electronics, environments and field recordings, text and voices and a patina of ethnic strains. That accounts for some frustration in the more than 2½ hours of music on this, SKO’s debut double-CD. With only eight tracks, the longest of which is slightly less than 36½ minutes, and the briefest [sic] slightly less than 11½ minutes, the tendency to pack too much into the compositions is rife. Featuring groupings ranging from nine to 27 pieces, SKO tries to excel, as its bumf puts it, in “surreal electronic landscapes, free-wheeling high-energy collective improvisations, meditative woodwind fugues, improvised street marches and minimalistic repetition”. Even Barry Guy’s decades long established London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra couldn’t do all that – and Guy didn’t try either. What’s encouraging about SKO is how well it and producer/composer/engineer/part-time conductor/field recordist Hubbard do first time out. Consider “A Murder of Crows” and “Raincastle”, which at 36:22 and 34:19 respectively each could have been single LPs in the 1960s. More derivative, the former’s exposition mixes swirling eddies of polyphonic horn lines, electronic loops and a flanged guitar line. It’s reminiscent of experiments involving Alan Silva’s Celestrial Communication Orchestra or Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra in the 1970s. Here the spit out, circumscribed or swelling lines are expressed so often and in such profusion, that outside of a certain undulating movement the outcome is nearly muddy and shapeless. Initial variations involve harsh interface between metallic textures and intermittent sawing strings, redirected and distorted with effects pedals. Following a near baroque string and horn interlude, only contorted, echoing guitar lines and a double-tongued, plunger exploration by trombonist Michael Dessen, in a half bop/half rock vein, prevent the sound from sliding into cop show soundtrack territory. Taped voices, funk licks and clanging ring modulator output make appearances along with short bursts of Aylerian reed squeaks and glottal punctuation, ringing guitar tones, laptop twists and fuzz-toned guitar licks. Soon a polytonal mix of marimba stings, hollow wood echoes, bell-ringing and drum rumbles are added from Hubbard and the four other percussionists. Eventually the repetitive resonation are reminiscent of those tunes on which Sun Ra gave every member of his Arkestra some percussion instrument. Stabilizing itself from a “Machine Gun”-like miasma, the reshaped theme simmers down to shakes, friction and rattles from hybrid trap kit, vibraphone, sampler and marimba, climaxing with offbeat rim shots and a final ride cymbal reverberation. Lacking the same sort of definite finale, the more original “Raincastle”, dribbles away at the end without reaching a climax. From the top the idea is to mix pre-recorded sounds of a real rain shower with looping electronic fuzz, zigzagging flute lines plus grace notes from the brass and a massed orchestral countermelody. After Harris Eisenstadt introduces the pitter-patter of marimba mallet tinctures, the transition involves a low-key but propulsive flat picking guitar fill from Al Scholl, prepared piano scrapes from Stephanie Robinson, legato soaring strings from the section and bright fluting from Lee Elderton. As thematic shards are tossed back and forth, boppish cymbal beats and hollow percussion echoes give way to a vamping reed section in double counterpoint with brassy horn embellishments, both of which are superseded by an unidentified soprano voice singing a folksy ditty. On top of roistering blasting trumpets, bass trombonist Alex Panos outlines a chromatic call to colors until three bassists divide a measured, tandem solo into sections that from one depends on slaps on ribs and belly of instrument, and another, harsh sul tasto lines figuratively cutting the bass in half. Before the unsatisfactory conclusion, guitarist Jon Garner picks out a pretty, light-fingered solo with ringing notes and impressive finger control. But divorced from any instrumental backing it sounds out of character, a divergence not a variation on the theme. Attempts at apocalyptic, Beat-influenced poetry read by Hubbard and Valley Girl/Lit major erotic verses voiced on another track, would probably have been better relegated to another outing, though the percussionist does evoke Albert Ayler’s name to set up a feature for nearly all the reed players. Ancillary disconnect appears as well, however when besides sax screams and accelerating polyphonic horn smears, the track adds irregular scratching loops and buzzing signals and climaxes with consolidated riffs that seem more in Ray Coniff’s than Sun Ra’s territory. Jay Easton’s subterranean exhortation on contrabass saxophone is the track’s saving grace however. Elsewhere multiple counterpoint among the horns can rang from Free Jazz to Swing in sections with slippery rhythm guitar work adding a Booker T and the MG’s funk melodiousness. This euphony also appears when the strings and woodwind tonal colors become almost recital-like pastoral. In contrast, another piece is partially built around a duet between sharp fiddle jettes and distorted, almost dirty, agitated guitar lines. The remainder has exciting broken octave work from bassists Joscha Oetz and Scott Walton, one slapping buzzy tremolos, the other exposing near shudders as he loosens the strings on the neck. Other echoes include processional trombone lines, undulating percussion tones and wavering reed tones that are reminiscent of the sort of Cool Jazz associated with 1950s’West Coast big bands. With all these colors, textures and ideas available from nearly 30 musicians, Hubbard may have attempted a bit too much on SKO’s debut. But considering what was accomplished here, judicious editing next time out may make the ensemble a group to be reckoned with far beyond the Western United States. -- Ken Waxman

Jeremy Keens Ampersand Issue: ¬es 2004_13

Big bands are the watchword as Nathan Hubbard's Skeleton Key Orchestra arrives from Circumventions (, 039A-B). Hubbard is a percussionist, appearing on various Trummerflora collective (also heard on Accretions) releases and a solo release (2003_c). Here he has put together varying groups of large size (from 11 to 29), many familiar names amongst the performers, for 8 pieces combining improv and composition. The variation is an attractive aspect of this album: wind (brass and wood) strings (violin, cello, bass, guitar) percussion piano organ and electronics in manifold combinations provide dramatic and exciting works. There is myriad detail in the notes, who is playing, who has the solos, and the music shifts through moods and methods. As with Kaiser, there are periods of big band playing - sometimes melodic, Zappaesque or improv wild - solos, duets and subgroups participating, as well as unusual instrumentation. For example, Is That You? is driven by the woodwinds, while the long Raincastle has a pastoral development, builds to a flute solo then band flow, flighty but guarded before chords and free running, bassy solo into guitar. The mood shifts are engrossing - PCO-like, carnivale percussion, a couple of spoken-poetic lyrics, almost classical in Making My Way, minimalistic as well as maximal pleasures. There are signs of post-production composition, with some sections fading into each other rather than necessarily flowing out of the improv - but that is not a complaint. What I really like about this is the variety expressed across the two disks: what may seem like an indulgence actually doesn't really have dead space or filler but is a powerful set of composed-improvisations.


Nathan Hubbard. Skeleton Key Orchestra. Circumvention Records, 2003.

Nathan Hubbard's new release on the San Diego-based label Circumvention Records marks the culmination of years of effort to bring the Skeleton Key Orchestra to fruition. The Orchestra made it's debut in October, 2001 at San Diego State University and on KSDS 88.3 FM Jazz Live, as a 22-member improvising ensemble featuring many of San Diego's finest young improvisers and members of many of the active improvising ensembles at the time, including Cosmologic, Return to One, the Christopher Adler Trio and the Trummerflora Collective. The two large compositions featured on the debut concert, Raincastle and A Murder of Crows, are on this new recording, though significantly reworked and improved.
Hubbard has kept to his vision of inclusiveness and ambitiously large forces as the Skeleton Key Orchestra has evolved since its debut. There are thirty-six performers featured on the new double CD, though not all performing together in a single piece. The Skeleton Key Orchestra has evolved into a collection of ensembles, ranging from small chamber ensembles or jazz combos to large ensembles of over twenty-five members. Instead of establishing an ensemble and writing with its particular members in mind, Hubbard composes widely-ranging and creatively orchestrated pieces and then seeks the musicians appropriate to each piece. From having participated in the Orchestra since its debut, I can attest that it has been at time a Herculaen effort for Hubbard to assemble such large forces from San Diego's new music scene for rehearsals, performances and recordings, for the most part on a purely volunteer basis. For this recording he even brought musicians from Los Angeles to participate. It is this tremendous effort that marks this albums greatest triumph and its only weakness.
Hubbard's efforts to assemble diverse instrumental colors and creative soloists allow him to realize an refreshing, inclusive approach to composition. The works on this recording span from rhythmic minimalism and irregular polyrhythmic patterns, to large ensemble jazz funk, to swirling free jazz, to tight bebep, to filmic string sections and electronica. Many of the compositions bring together these diverse genres in carefully proportioned and well-conceived ways, and are very successful. Furthermore, by not sparing on instrumentation, each one is realized very effectively down to the last detail: the funk guitar in Is that You (Earl)?/Dogs Don't Bark at Ghosts, the Steve-Reich inspired mallet percussion group in Raincastle, the Afro-Cuban percussion in East on 53rd Street. None of this would have been possible without Hubbard ceaseless efforts to pull together so many musicians. Having done so, Hubbard must work with musicians not all of whom are at the same level as performers or improvisers. This proved a significant issue in the early incarnations of the Orchestra, which all too frequently devolved into chaos. This was exacerbated by Hubbard's very open style of composition, frequently calling upon individual performers to make substantial judgements about the character of their contribution and even the form or proprotion of the resulting work. With this recording, Hubbard has addressed this issue in two ways, the first of which was to significantly tighten the compositions, providing performers with much more written-out material and making more of the formal decisions ahead of time, as well as yielding greater authority to the conductor in guiding ensemble improvisation. It is a credit to Hubbard's skill as a composer that many of the strongest moments on the CD are the fully written out sections, such as Lee Elderton's soprano saxophone solo in Raincaste, and the haunting end of Making My Way Thru It/Waiting in Vain. Hubbard has also pulled together the ensemble, in a manner of speaking, by pulling it apart. For this recording, many of the longer pieces were recorded in sections and reassembled later in the studio. This allowed Hubbard to incorporate small chamber ensemble sections and even electronic remix-sections, each well recorded and rehearsed separately. Individual musicians no longer had to concern themselves with the totality but could focus on this contribution in their particular section, one piece at a time. In the studio, Hubbard then assembled his compositions according to the preconceived plan, adjusting form and proportion (which are most critical in extended improvised works) with consideration to the results actually acheived by the musicians, even choosing takes on which soloists provided their best efforts. With these two strategies, Hubbard makes the his composition and the Orchestra shine.

Finally, I must point out that Hubbard's skills as a drummer and percussionist are fortunately much in evidence throughout the recording, whether holding down an excessively regular but very groovy 37/16 in A Murder of Crows, or flying at top speed in Next Love (All Things Want to Fly). In addition to Elderton's solo in Raincastle, other striking moments than should not go without mention are Isaac Tubb's solo and Ward Baxter's solo with electronics in East on 53rd Street, the roaring opening of A Murder of Crows. -Christopher Adler San Diego New Music Newsletter


San Diego Union-Tribune December 30th 2004 By George Varga POP MUSIC CRITIC

A countdown for the daring and the distinctive

December 30, 2004
"The Other Stream" is a monthly look at music outside the mainstream that pushes borders and boundaries. With more than 30,000 albums released each year, just getting heard – let alone making an impact – is a daunting challenge. This holds even more true for the bold, uncompromising artists featured each month in "The Other Stream." In a just world, these performers would be household names. For now, they remain hidden treasures whose work should be savored, shared and savored again. So let the countdown begin (record company Web sites are provided for each album):

10. "Skeleton Key Orchestra," Nathan Hubbard ( –
A tour de force from this San Diego drum dynamo, whose dazzling fusion of avant jazz, electronica, Afro-Cuban and more is showcased on this two-CD set by a talent-rich group that numbers up to 28 members.



NH SKO is perhaps the most definitive recording i've made of my percussion playing, with me covering many different roles and instruments. A large portion of the recording has me playing kit, generally the red Tama kit with the normal junk (see below). I played a larger "rock kit" (mostly daves Yamaha kit) for the trombone solo in a murder of crows and my smaller solo setup for the ending percussion trio of a murder of crows. Several pieces have overdubbed percussion, mostly congas (is that you..., east on 53rd st.) and frame drums (sleeping against other warnings). In addition to Jon Szantos mallet playing (marimba, vibes and glockenspiel) on the record, i overdubbed quite a bit of mallets - vibes on raincastle, sleeping and don't look says the crow, marimba on raincastle, a murder of crows and don't look, and glockenspiel and chimes on a murder. I got the chance to play duo drums with several people on this record - Harris Eisenstadt played drumkit (and marimba) on several tracks (raincastle, don't look) and James Burton played kit on next love. Curtis Glatter, James Burton and Marcos Fernandes also added percussion to several tracks. Use of electronics varies, from the drum machines on East on 53rd Street to frame and sampler on a murder of crows, old gig tapes and phonographies on raincastle to processing and dub mixing thru-out the record. Finally, the use of my homemade instruments rounds out the record, with pipephones used in sleeping and the dopplerophone orchestra at the end of don't look says the crow. The entire thing was recorded to my Mac G4, i also mixed and edited the recording and Steve Langdon mastered it. After much searching, i found the key hole for the cover, Ward Baxter did the layout and Karen Hubbard, Kelly Lancaster, Marcos Fernandes, Jason Hubbard and Melonie Sacalamitao took pictures.