Nicolas Field/John Dikeman/Thomas Florin, Geneva AMR, 14 January 2023

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” ran the blurb for this concert by a new trio making its Geneva début at AMR last week, pitting the British drummer Nicolas Field against Swiss pianist Thomas Florin and American tenor saxophonist, now based in Amsterdam, John Dikeman. If the tagline hinted at the possibility of overdriven free jazz in the mould of Peter Brötzmann or the late Scandinavian power trio The Thing, it was a prospect that quickly evaporated in the hands of these thoughtful, highly inventive musicians. AMR was nicely full for the occasion, although this may have had something to do with a “two tickets for the price of one” deal that was on offer that night.

Field has been a quietly forceful presence behind the kit each time I’ve seen him play, an impression that was amply reinforced tonight. Whether leading his own six-piece N-Ensemble or battling it out against four relentless interlocutors as part of the drum duo Buttercup Metal Polish, the drummer has shown himself to be a master at blending souped-up rhythms with quiet sonorities and storming free passages. On this occasion Field’s probing and intricate stickwork kept up a sustained dialogue with the sax and piano, opening up space for Dikeman and Florin to illuminate the room with their melodic and harmonic invention.

It was a short concert, with four pieces each lasting fifteen minutes or so; perhaps the brevity of the evening was due in part to the relative newness of the trio. However, the gig certainly wasn’t short of eventfulness or arresting moments. Florin, whom I’d seen play before as part of the aforementioned N-Ensemble, opened the first piece in wintry minimalist style before being joined by Dikeman in swirling, exploratory duo forays. The saxophonist’s hard, earthy tone gradually expanded into flights of exuberant soloing, culminating in a lively exchange where he and Field alighted on an irresistible groove, scooped it up and took it in all kinds of unexpected directions. Dikeman’s tenor playing reminded me at times of Ken Vandermark, with something of the same formidable power and restless intelligence; but Dikeman’s style is very much his own, marked by agitated multiphonics and piercing Ayleresque cries.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of extended techniques, so I must admit that I found it a little dispiriting when Dikeman employed slap tonguing and other attacks on the reed that traded his usual fluency for a certain spikiness. For his part, Florin reached for the inside of his piano more often than was strictly necessary; there’s really no need to extend the palette of available piano sounds in this way. But these are minor gripes, which did little to detract from the sheer enjoyment of the concert. I left wanting to hear more; let’s hope this trio sticks around. In the meantime, Field and Florin will present an extended version of their Re-Ghoster project at the Archipel festival in Geneva in April.

Nicolas Field’s N-Ensemble, Geneva AMR, 24 March 2018

You wouldn’t necessarily expect to find a world-class free jazz and improv club right in the centre of Geneva, just a few minutes’ walk from the main railway station. But that’s what you get with L’Association pour l’encouragement de la musique improvisée, Geneva’s leading venue for this kind of music. If Cave 12 is Geneva’s equivalent of the Rhiz in Vienna, then AMR is Geneva’s Blue Tomato, with a programme of regular concerts by local musicians spiced up with occasional visits from big hitters such as Evan Parker, Mats Gustafsson and Ken Vandermark. I saw both the Schlippenbach Trio and Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra there in recent months, but never got around to reviewing them. Maybe I will one day, although I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Anyway, it was a pleasure to visit AMR for the second of two evenings led by the Anglo-Swiss drummer Nicolas Field. Field’s was a name new to me, but he’s worked with musicians of the calibre of Keiji Haino, Akira Sakata and “Sir” Richard Bishop, as well as being active in sound art and composing music for the Burgtheater in Vienna. On the occasion of this AMR residency he put together a six-piece group consisting of Swiss and international musicians, and called it the N-Ensemble.

The evening consisted of two set-long pieces, the latter of which Field introduced as “From Sand to Dust”. With just a few written guidance notes in evidence, Field allowed the players plenty of room to improvise within the overall structure of the piece. Duo and trio sections opened out into full-group improvisations, with the soundworld characterized by shifting zones of tension and release, punctuated by frequent bursts of turbulence. Key to the latter was guitarist and bassist Jasper Stadhouders, whose stormy riffing provided the evening with its most deliriously out-there moments. I’d seen Stadhouders a couple of times in Vienna playing bass in Ken Vandermark’s Made To Break, but those outings hadn’t really prepared me for the ferocity with which he applied himself to the electric guitar and the flinty resonance of his acoustic playing.

In the best tradition of group improvisation, each of the various members made important contributions to the overall pace and shape of the music. Valerio Tricoli had a fascinating set-up consisting of a vintage Revox tape recorder with no reels, just a single length of tape looped around a mic stand and travelling endlessly through the tape heads. Presumably Tricoli was recording the sounds in the room and processing them in real time via his mixing console next to the Revox. Whatever the truth of the matter, his interventions added a ghostly patina that hovered over Thomas Florin’s ominous piano and Bjørnar Habbestad’s piercing flute. Playing off brilliantly against Habbestad, Anne Gillot doubled on bass clarinet and something called a Paetzold contrabass recorder. This ungainly contraption looked like something a blind person would bring home from woodwork class, but sounded incredible, with Gillot’s fierce, truculent voicings splintering into the spaces left by the other musicians. Field himself was a constantly creative presence behind the drums, his restless stickwork anchoring the disparate elements of the ensemble.

So engrossed was I in the music’s enveloping sonorities that I was surprised, when I looked around at the end, to discover that I was one of only five people in the audience, there having been at least 20 at the beginning. This is probably the only concert I’ve ever attended where the people onstage outnumbered those in the audience, although this is no reflection on the quality of the music, which was never less than compelling.