The Dorf / Phill Niblock - Baobab / Echoes [Umland / Experimental Intermedia Foundation - 2020]The Dorf are a truly huge German orchestra/ avant-garde jazz band who regularly feature twenty-five members, but for this release are boosted to an astonishing thirty-eight players. This double CD release from the collective highlighting both their amassed droning side & their more quirky/ erratic side. The first disc features the collectives take on a track by drone legend/pioneer Phill Niblock, and the second disc is a three-track affair that sees the collective wondering all over the genre map.
The release appears as joint release German label Umland Records & New York based sonic artist collective Experimental Intermedia Foundation. The CD’s are presented in a mini gatefold- this looks akin to few pages from a old nature study book, taking in diagrams of cut fruit, and insects- there are thirty-eight insects in al,l tying to each player on this recording. Both discs are live recordings made in September of last year in the German city of Dortmund.
I won’t go onto list all thirty-eight players on this set- but instead give you an idea of the instrumentation we have here- there are several trombones, multiple saxophones, a trumpet, a cello, violins, one or two basses & guitars, vocals, synths, electronics, a Sousaphone, a theremin, and a Buchla. So as you can imagine we have a very dense( and certainly on the second disc) layer detailed sound.
The first disc takes in a version of Phill Niblock’s 2011 piece "baobab", which was originally written for strings, and rolled in at a twenty-three-minute mark. The version here doubles the original length to forty-six minutes and nineteen seconds. If you know Niblock’s work, you’ll know what to expect here- as it’s very typical of his sustained & simmering take on the drone genre. If I was to try & describe what the track sounds like I'd say it’s amassed buzz, and slowly feasting wall of tone- which very much brought to mind either a huge bee colony on honeycomb, or more morbidly- an amassed swarm of flies on a huge decay corpse that's sitting out in the baking sun. At moments one instrumental tone may be slightly more defined/ clear at the forefront of the work- but fairly soon this is lost & replaced by another tone. The whole work creates an understandable huge & pressing sonic presence, which over time can start to make one feel a little woozy & unbalanced- so I certainly would advise running, driving, or handling machinery when playing this. Over the years I’ve heard a few different takes on Niblock’s work- and I must say this stand as one of the more pressingly brooding & at times downright sinister- not sure why, but I guess it’s down to the particular blend of instrumental tones present here.
The second disc takes in three fairly lengthy tracks, that apparently recorded where by The Dorf twenty minutes after they finished playing the Niblock track. First up we have the sixteen & a half-minute of “Rich”, and with its blend of stabbing repetitive strings, guitars, horns and swirling malevolent female voices- it sounds like a looser & slightly wavering take on the type of thing Swans have been doing of late. Next is the nearly twelve & a half minutes of “F-Lan”- here we find a manic blend of bleating jazz horns, chanted-at-times ethnic female vocals, cluttering & lose jam rock, simmering & roasting violin, and the occasional touches of jittering ‘n’ swarming electronics- this is ok and builds to some nicely satisfying crescendos- though at points it very much lacks focus. Lastly, we have the just over nine minutes of “Split”- and we start with a wonderful marching-yet-malevolent blend of tolling post-rock guitar, string work, and darkly chanted female vocals- it sounds a little like a sloppy-more-wonky GY!BE. Though at around the mid-way point a wondering trad(later avant) jazz –meets- sawing folk collective wonderings into proceedings- at times this addition works, at other it sounds too messy.
So in summing up this two-disc set- the first disc offers up a fairly unique take on Niblock work & this for the most part is worthy. The second disc starts off promising, and the other two tracks here have there moments- but sadly I think this second disc largely lacks the focus that such a big collective like The Dorf need. So as a release it’s very much a game of two halves…certainly worth it for the first disc, but tread more carefully with the secondRoger Batty