Sunday, September 27, 2015

Michael Mantler - 1976 - The Hapless Child

Michael Mantler 
The Hapless Child

01. The Sinking Spell 4.40
02. The Object Lesson 5.00
03. The Insect God 5.00
04. The Doubful Guest 4.45
05. The Remembered Visit 6.25
06. The Hapless Child 7.00

Carla Bley : Vocal Keyboards
Robert Wyatt : Vocal
Terje Rypdal : Guitars
Steve Swallow : Bass
Jack Dejohnette : Drums
Alfreda Benge : Speaker
Nick Mason : Speaker
Albert Caulder : Speaker

Releases information
recorded July 1975 through January 1976
at Willow, NY, and England
Produced by Carla Bley
Music By Michael Mantler

GOREY STORIES   by Alan Goodman (with apologies)

One dies of consumption, a fit or spell.
Another's bummed by an imp from hell.
They're wretched beings who please the fan
Of Edward Gorey's etchéd clan.
    (Lots of guitar here, gives you time
    to look at the queer pictures.)

The guitar player's the conscience and soul.
The organ and bass heavily roll.
The drummer hardly worries his head.
With Gorey's existential dread.
    (That voice! Weird he get that voice?)

Now look, here comes a mysterious composer
With quiet eyes and a mild composure.
He selects six stories, and musicians to fit
To help him make good work of it.
    (A loud part here
    And you can tap your foot.)

Gorey's monsters seem quite small,
They hardly fit the frame at all.
But they're all that's needed
to make one gaze
As musicians race thru Mantler's maze.
    (People talk quietly in the garden
    just below the loudspeakers.)

Some will say the illustrations
Require no further ministrations,
But Goreyites are likely to find
These music mites can swell the mind.
    (Servants are carrying off
    broken instruments.)

The books are popular without any song
But that doesn't make the music wrong!
Just think of it as something extra,
A hitherto unnoticed, additional texcha.
    (That brute of a drummer
    eats guitar straps for lunch.)

Is there, besides Wyatt, a more perfect choice
To sing in Millicent Frastley's nurse's voice?
He's not your common philomel
And Miss Skrim-Pshaw never rocked so well.
    (Skrim-Pshaw? Philomel? This can't be jazz!)

Trekking steadily through, Mantler's been able
To transform these horrors for the coffee table.
They're resonant and strangely inertial,
Here's an album that's potentially commercial!
    (They should sell it in bookstores
    And when you get home, surprise!)

Oh no, not what one quite expects
It's best to follow along with the texts.
Amphigorey it's called, and I must confess
In paperback it costs much less.
    (G.P.Putnam's Sons. Fun-loving fellows.)

 I still remember the first time I heard about this album, and just the thought of Terje Rypdal and Robert Wyatt playing on the same record almost caused me to go into cardiac arrest. After getting my bearings I immediately went to every music vendor I had ever dealt with only to discover that this recording was long out of print. Some time later I was fortunate enough to find another album that these two played on from this "Violin Summit" in Germany, and they were part of the same band that performed with Sugar Cane Harris and others. Terje and Robert were both playing instruments on that one while here on Mantler's work Robert sings on every track while Terje offers up one of his best performances on guitar.
Michael Mantler wrote the music while American author Edward Gorey wrote the lyrics, or I should say his lyrics from his book "Amphigorey" were used for this recording. Gorey's writings are interesting as he writes chilling and dark novels(accompanied with his own drawings) which are about the bizarre experiences of children, like something out of The Twilight Zone. So yes the mood of this album is dark and eerie and I have to say I have never heard Wyatt sing like this. He really hits the high notes at times but even overall it seems like he is singing out of his comfort zone much of the time, but he sounds great. Terje sounds like he usually does as his guitar cries out of the night throughout this album. What a combination though with Wyatt's voice and Rypdal's guitar playing. Carla Bley produced this and plays string synths, keyboards, clavinet and more while Nick Mason mixed it and added spoken words. The great Jack DeJohnette is on drums while Steve Swallow is on bass.

"The Sinking Spell" opens with people talking as piano and vocals come in. Guitar and synths arrive quickly and there's no mistaking Terje's playing here and throughout. Rypdal and Wyatt trade off throughout. This is where Wyatt sings in a high pitched manner. Vocal melodies from Robert late as Terje rips it up. "The Object Lesson" opens with piano and drums as almost mono-toned vocals help out. Guitar joins in on the melancholy. Some cool sounding keyboards when Wyatt stops singing briefly. When the vocals return the music becomes more avant sounding. Man Terje can play. "The Insect God" is urgent sounding where Robert almost speaks the vocal parts in a fast paced manner. Rypdal sets the soundscape on fire each time the vocals stop. The guitar is crying out of the darkness.

"The Doubtful Guest" surprisingly reminds me of PRESENT or UNIVERS ZERO the way the piano led soundscape sounds as the vocals join in. So much going on as the vocals continue. What an impressive display. "The Remembered Visit" puts the focus on the vocals as powerful orchestral sounding keys come and go with piano. It sounds like clarinet later. "The Hapless Child" is dark and melancholic as Wyatt sings in an eerie manner. Piano helps out then the guitar cries out along with trumpet. Things pickup around 3 minutes, then it picks up even more as Wyatt sings quickly with the guitar soloing over top. It then settles back with piano only before that full sound returns.

This really comes across as an Avant styled album with two very unique talents in Wyatt and Rypdal possibly giving the best performances of their lives. Still it's not exactly an easy listen, but without question this is one of the most interesting releases i've ever heard.

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