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Bern Nix: A History In Harmolodics

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Current Activity And The Future

Nix played at John Zorn's venue, The Stone, with his trio in July, 2009. "It turned out it was a pretty decent gig, a fairly decent gig. We had an audience... Musically, I thought it was pretty good. Overall, I was happy. It was nice to be playing, you know. To have a gig." His new trio has Jackson Krall on drums and Francois Grillot on bass. Krall has played with, among others, Cecil Taylor and Peter Brotzmann, and Grillot is well steeped in the New York avant-garde—he has played, for example, with soprano saxophonist Catherine Sikora.

The trio's set includes tunes from Nix's 1993 album Alarms And Excursions, such as "Z Jam Blues," the Coleman tune, "European Echoes," and standards played in Nix's own style. He does not play any music from Low Barometer: "I haven't done any of that music in a while 'cause I haven't been rehearsing it or playing it." He says that the written music for the album is currently stashed away: "I had this catastrophe in my apartment—I had to put everything in my apartment into storage. So it's been there for the last couple of years. I haven't really looked at it since I did the record. Maybe I will, when I get everything back. Something to think about."

A typical venue for the trio has been The Cake Shop, the eclectic Lower East Side club. Here they play Coleman's "European Echoes":

In April, 2009, Nix played in a duo with trumpeter and tenor saxophonist Joe McPhee, as part of the fourth annual "Rhythm in the Kitchen" Music Festival held by the The Hell's Kitchen Cultural Center in Hell's Kitchen on West 57th Street, Manhattan. The three-day festival also included Virginia noise band Little Women, an exciting band that attracted Nix's attention. They are led by alto player Darius Jones: "Yes, that was in April. Little Women. Darius Jones, I met him that night. He and (singer) Lola (Danza) [with whom Nix has also just performed] are friends; they work together. They were a great band—show stopping, an amazing noise band. The music was so far out. It was noise, but it was orchestrated. It was performance art, blowing into pieces, undoing saxophones on the floor! Amazing players. My head was like... it was stunning. It was like... you had to be there!"

Nix recently appeared, in June, with Danza and Jones at The Brecht Forum: "I did a gig with Lola [and drummer] Nat Mugavero and this guy." Nix has also played in a duo context with Arto Lindsay and fellow Ohio native Elliott Sharp. Duos and trios obviously give great scope for free playing.

He also accompanies poets. A prominent example is the famous Jayne Cortez, who was Ornette Coleman's former wife (Nix has performed and recorded with her group, The Firespitters, since 1982). He describes it: "She calls me, I play. I played with her in April." As for the music that he plays as the accompaniment, he says, "Well, we talk it about it, and I listen to what they're doing." He has also accompanied poet Susan L. Yang.

Nix has been busy going to a lot of rehearsals with varying musicians and for various projects, including a Charlie Parker-themed gig with alto saxophonist {Patrick Brennan}. "[I had] a gig with him [on the first] Saturday [in August]. We [did] some of Charlie Parker's music. August is "Charlie Parker Month" [Parker was born August 29, 1920]. Every August, they have a Charlie Parker festival downtown," says Nix. He explains of the music: "We take it apart and reconstruct it."

"And the writer Lenore Von Stein is making a sort of public access program—she's trying to get on TV. I've been working with her for a while."

He may also be playing with guitarist Marc Ribot: "I got a call from Marc Ribot's manager about doing something with him." Nix played in a duet with Marc Ribot about ten years ago. He says he has an "incredible ear." "[It] seems like it's going to happen," he says.

Nix will also shortly be playing again with his trio: "My bassist went home [to France] for a couple of weeks. When he gets back, we're going to do some more rehearsing. I'll be trying to find some more gigs with the trio and to try to [arrange] recording it—I was talking to someone the other day about that possibility." It would be interesting to see a new recording by the trio, in the light of Nix's more recent records.

Bern Nix is always looking to move forward. He says, "At 15, I wanted to be a professional musician... I've always been preoccupied with learning how to play the guitar. You're so worried about your limitations, but it's better to be that way than to be complacent or self-satisfied. It always keeps you keen." Maybe there will be a noise element in his next record!


Bern Nix, Low Barometer (Tompkins Square, 2006)

Frank Lowe Quartet, Lowe-down and Blue (CIMP, 2003)

Jayne Cortez & The Firespitters, Borders of Disorderly Time (Bola Press, 2003)

James Chance & The Contortions, White Cannibal (ROIR, 2000)

Bern Nix, Alarms And Excursions (New World Records, 1993)


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