Michael Mantler: No Answer (WATT/2)

No Answer

Michael Mantler
No Answer

Jack Bruce voices, bass
Carla Bley piano, clavinet, organs
Don Cherry trumpet
Recorded February and July 1973
Blue Rock Studio, New York
Jack Bruce recorded November 1973
Island Studios, London
Mixed March 1974
Blue Rock Studio, New York
Produced by Carla Bley and Michael Mantler

when the panting stops yes so that was true yes the panting
yes the murmur yes in the dark yes
in the mud yes to the mud yes

After landing us in the scenery of Carla Bley’s Tropic Appetites, our journey through the land of WATT brings us to its first stopover in the form of Michael Mantler’s No Answer. Here we are exposed not to the snapshots of that first masterful traversal, but rather to the fitful dreams of our displacement following it, wounded by the act of travel in ways that only the unpunctuated prose of Samuel Beckett can articulate. Drawing on the globally talented trio of vocalist Jack Bruce, trumpeter Don Cherry, and Bley herself on piano, clavinet, and organs, Mantler sets passages from 1964’s How It Is (1964) as if each were a life to be shuffled rather than a memory to be pulled from its deck.

Consisting of two sections—NUMBER SIX and NUMBER TWELVE—of four parts each, No Answer is (curiously) an answer to its own question. This philosophical DNA repeats itself endlessly; only we are privy to a sliver of its helix. Bley’s pianism is the damp ground beneath gray-clouded vocal overdubs, yielding beneath every word as if it were a footprint in the making. The quality of Bruce’s singing lends itself organically to Mantler’s stage, as if the two were made for each other. His delivery is sardonic yet sincere, his falsetto particularly haunting in its naked vulnerability. He walks the line of theatrical refraction, rolling up the fourth wall like a backdrop no longer needed. Thus, he represents a lifelong fascination, pulled into an ephemeral mold.

Though the novel itself is a slog through mud and violence, there’s something unclothed about the music that adds an entirely different level to its interpretation. Bley is the curio collector in this regard, at some points rummaging through a closet of memory while at others dancing among the bits of relics she has unearthed. As for Cherry, he is a voice from the past, chanting and bubbling through terrestrial forms of communication.

The second half of the program is introduced via clavinet and Bruce’s congregation of selves. In the context of this vibrant execution, we find ourselves caught in the web of inner meanings over outward appearances. The effect is such that, even when Bruce breaks open a bottle of funk with his bass, there is little to be hopeful for in the bleakness of things. In a reversal of fortune, fire comes before smoke, sinking into the darkness of Bley’s organ in the slow tumble of a drunken tourist.

nothing to emend there no the arms spread yes
like a cross no answer
LIKE A CROSS no answer YES OR NO yes

No Answer back