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Jazz ensemble led by Bern Nix hits Voelker Orth

TimesLedger Newspapers

The Voelker Orth Museum will be offering up some complex jazz on Oct. 14, as the Bern Nix Trio performs in the venue’s Victorian Garden at 3 p.m. The ensemble, led by jazz guitarist Nix, moves between set compositions and improvisational experiments, promising visitors an engaging, if unpredictable, show.

Nix is probably best known as a member of saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time band through the 1970s and 1980s, though he has gone on to a steady and successful career of his own since leaving the group in 1987.

A Manhattanite, Nix only makes occasional appearances in Queens, such as a recent show at Flushing Town Hall. The Voelker Orth show, where the trio will perform in the venue’s garden, maintained using 18th century gardening techniques, will give Queens residents a chance to catch his unique blend of formal and experimental music. Admission is $12.

“Sometimes I follow form, sometimes I don’t,” says Nix. “If you’re playing swing or bebop, you play to form. Avant garde or free music is more expressionistic, and I’ve been trying to synthesize those elements.”

When Nix first began learning jazz guitar, he started with the basic forms and standards before branching out into more free-form styles. In his performances, he incorporates jazz standards, as well as works from his albums, such as Imagination Anthem Low Barometer from 2005, and Alarms and Excursions from 1993, but leaves plenty of room for improvisation.

When discussing different forms of jazz, he maintains an open-minded outlook, and a willingness to embrace a range of influences without the need to apply specific labels.

“The whole thing of being a jazz player is so diverse, there are so many stylistic differences overall, especially with the guitar,” says Nix. “People came up with pop and rock and punk and R&B, so now you find a lot of people playing that. I have a traditional setup — in a way, I’ve become the old school.”

Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Nix moved to New York in 1975 — “when the city was bankrupt” — and was immediately drawn in to the downtown artist community and the loft living.

He formed the trio in the late 1980s and has had members moving in and out of the group since.

“I never thought I’d be a band leader, but it was a way to find work,” says Nix.

While Bern continues to perform as the leader of a trio — and will be doing that at the Voelker Orth show — for the last few months, the group has also recently added trumpeter Matt Lavelle for quartet shows.

“We have a similar influence, so I don’t have to explain as much to him about what I’m trying to do,” says Bern. “Having technique is one thing, but to know how to apply it in different situations is a different skill.”

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