One of the great lost unknown albums of the seventies is The Hapless Child and other inscrutable stories by Michael Mantler. The album features Robert Wyatt on vocals with an impressive list of left of centre Jazz influenced guest musicians including, Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal, Carla Bley on Keyboards, Steve Swallow on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.
The album’s lyrics are written by Edward Gorey (1925-2000) and taken from a collected volume of his works, Amphigorey compiled in 1972 – Gorey also illustrates the album sleeve. This wonderfully odd record sets macabre scenes expressed through Gorey’s wonderful dark imagination.
The Insect God is one of six songs on the album that includes, The Sinking Spell, The Object Lesson, The Insect God, The Doubtful Guest, The Remembered Visit and The Hapless Child – all lyrical gems with music by Michael Mantler.
Mantler is essentially an Austrian jazz trumpeter and composer. Mantler moved to New York in 1962 and married Carla Bley in 1967. She was an influential contributor and composer in the Free Jazz movement. (Carla Bley’s first husband was Jazz pianist Paul Bley whose name she kept when they divorced). Mantler and Bley formed their own label, Watt Records to release their musical adventures. The two broke up in 1992 and Mantler moved back to Europe where he has continued his musical commissions. (Jazz Musician Karen Mantler is their daughter)
Mantler’s list of albums is impressive and his musical ideas set to authors works have been critically acclaimed by that small intellectual avant-garde jazz community that exists on the periphery of the mainstream and live on Arts Grants. Other albums include No Answer (Samuel Beckett) (1974) Silence (Harold Pinter) 1977. Mantler has connected Rock and Jazz by working with Chris Spedding, Nick Mason, Marianne Faithful and Kevin Coyne, Larry Coryell and Tony Williams amongst others.
I always loved this album, Edward Gorey’s droll lyrics and evocative illustrations and penchant for anything Edwardian are a shadowy joy. Add Robert Wyatt’s inimitable voice and you have one of the more unusual collaborations of the seventies.
Here using his illustrations Anthony Lucas animates the song bringing the characters to life. It’s creepy, it’s unsettling, it’s essential.