Bern Nix: Low Barometer
Bob Burnett: From 1975-87 Bern Nix, along with Charles Ellerbe, made up the searing two guitar attack in Ornette Coleman's group, Prime Time. Prime Time was a group that was on fire. They merged together the pulse of Afro-pop-meets-James Brown-funk with strands of New York’s no wave movement. In fact, Nix played briefly in the no-wave group, The Contortions. Prime Time made about six albums that I can think of, but to get a quick sense of Prime Time check out this clip on youtube that features them on Saturday Night Live.
I can hear you saying “Ornette on Saturday Night Live?” Hold on—the story gets better.
Prime Time are introduced by the show’s guest host Milton Berle, standing in some kind of boxing-type robe surrounded by a bunch of older men in suits. In his best show biz banter he says “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you—Ornette Coleman! Let’s hear it!”
Now, far out out of the spotlight of live TV and beyond Prime Time, Bern Nix has released an interesting solo album with a unique distribution method. Low Barometer is on New York’s Tompkins Square Records and is only available via download at emusic. Albeit a work featuring its share of improvisations on a theme, this music doesn’t resemble the rhythmic density of Prime Time. It’s an album of spare solo guitar touching equally on shards of Derek Bailey-styled free improvisation as well as classic single note melody playing circa Jim Hall. There is a ton of space on this album. Nix frequently plays in a very controlled manner however he’s constantly exploring, improvising and searching for phrases, combinations and new pathways to follow. Low Barometer is an interesting puzzle piece type approach to music. It’s a quiet and subdued listening experience but nonetheless a fresh look at the challenge of playing solo guitar.
I made a reference to Derek Bailey—I’m thinking Nix’s playing on Low Barometer reflects specifically on Bailey’s Ballads album as well as Pieces For Guitar where delicate improvisation within a somewhat linear scope made up the palette. Nix’s playing never reaches for the visceral, harmonic textures that Bailey frequently ascended to; he’s very much coming from an introspective, calming jazz player’s perspective here.
If you have an emusic account you should use eight of your downloads to get this album. If you don’t have an emusic account you might want to check in with Downtown Music Gallery whom a few weeks back offered signed, limited edition CD-R’s of the album.