12 Songs, 44 Minutes

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About Ghost Train Orchestra

Known for leading various incarnations of his avant chamberesque folk-country outfit Beat Circus, Florida-born, Boston-based trumpeter (actually, multi-instrumentalist), bandleader, composer, arranger, and singer/songwriter Brian Carpenter is also the principal driving force behind the Ghost Train Orchestra, restoring to life some of the most ebullient -- and oftentimes underappreciated or even largely forgotten -- music of early 20th century America. A resident of the Boston area since 2001, the diversely talented Carpenter devoted considerable energy to the dark Americana of Beat Circus during the first decade of the new millennium, but increasingly focused more attention on his snappy Ghost Train ensemble, initially assembled in 2006 to perform at the 90th anniversary celebration of Arlington, Massachusett's Regent Theatre, an event for which he had been chosen as music director.

The Regent Theatre was originally established as a vaudeville house, and accordingly, Carpenter looked back to jazz of the vaudeville era -- specifically the late '20s prior to the emergence of the idiom's signature big-band sound during the following decade -- for musical inspiration in planning the Ghost Train performance at the venue. From original 78-rpm records, Carpenter meticulously transcribed the music of idiosyncratic early jazz bands and then gathered together a nine-piece group of Brooklyn-based musicians to play his own arrangements. Given the success of their Regent appearance, the Ghost Train Orchestra became far more than a one-off project, performing regularly in N.Y.C., including a monthly series of shows at Barbès in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood.

In November 2009 the band entered Manhattan's Avatar Studios to record its debut album with co-producer and engineer Danny Blume, with a lineup comprising Carpenter on trumpet, harmonica, and vocals joined by Dennis Lichtman on clarinet; Andy Laster on alto saxophone; Matt Bauder on tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, and clarinet; Curtis Hasselbring on trombone; Mazz Swift on violin and vocals; Jordan Voelker on viola and saw; Brandon Seabrook on banjo; Ron Caswell on tuba; and Rob Garcia on drums. Featuring rollicking repertoire from McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Charlie Johnson's Paradise Orchestra, Fess Williams' Royal Flush Orchestra, and Tiny Parham & His Musicians, Hothouse Stomp: The Music of 1920s Chicago and Harlem was released in 2011 by Accurate Records (the label of Boston's Either/Orchestra) to considerable critical acclaim.

Carpenter kept the Ghost Train rolling, and for sophomore album Book of Rhapsodies -- recorded mainly at Brooklyn Recording Studios in April 2012 by Blume and Andy Taub and released by Accurate in October of the following year -- he extended the band's re-imagined repertoire from the '20s into the '30s and '40s. But rather than follow a thread into prevailing jazz styles of those two decades, the ensemble remained a vehicle for uncovering the quirky, the idiosyncratic, and the forgotten, as Carpenter transcribed and arranged odd and often highly complex (and high-spirited) compositions that truly transcended genre -- "chamber jazz" perhaps being the best stylistic box if such a box were needed -- written by four composers of this bygone era: Raymond Scott, Charlie Shavers, Reginald Foresythe, and Alec Wilder. The latter composer's inimitable jazz-classical melds covered on Book of Rhapsodies included such titles as "It's Silk, Feel It!" and "Dance Man Buys a Farm," both of which found the Ghost Train Orchestra supplemented by the seven-member Book of Rhapsodies Choir (including baritone vocalist Carpenter) -- with a sound reminiscent of the Swingle Singers, although Carpenter has noted in an All About Jazz interview that Wilder arranged wordless vocals in a manner akin to the Swingles several decades before that vocal pop outfit's '60s-era recordings. As for the core instrumental ensemble on Book of Rhapsodies, it had expanded to 11 members, with Carpenter, Lichtman, Laster, Hasselbring, Swift, Caswell, and Garcia joined by guitarist Avi Bortnick (whom Carpenter had first met during his pre-Boston days in Florida), tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Petr Cancura, violist Tanya Kalmanovitch, and double bassist Michael Bates.

As it turned out, Carpenter's cache of scores prepared in advance of the Hothouse Stomp sessions was overflowing, and not everything he had transcribed and arranged for potential inclusion on that 2011 album ultimately found its way to the disc, so the bandleader decided to revisit the same late-'20s early jazz territory first explored on Hothouse for Ghost Train's third album. Mainly recorded in September 2013 by Taub at Brooklyn Recording Studios, where the band had tracked Book of Rhapsodies the preceding year, and released by Accurate in May 2015, Hot Town returned to the music of Charlie Johnson's Paradise Orchestra, Fess Williams' Royal Flush Orchestra, and Tiny Parham & His Musicians, while also featuring a pair of Carpenter arrangements of tunes originally co-penned by Cecil Scott and Don Frye for Scott's Bright Boys, one of the most popular groups in Harlem circa 1929-1930. In addition to Carpenter himself, reappearing in the Ghost Train lineup for Hot Town were Lichtman, Laster, Cancura, Hasselbring, Swift, Caswell, Garcia, and Voelker, along with newcomer Cynthia Sayer on plectrum banjo. Beat Circus' Andrew Stern was also featured on tenor banjo on a pair of numbers, and titan of the bass saxophone Colin Stetson appeared on three tracks.

And, it later became clear that the Ghost Train Orchestra had not finished recording some of Carpenter's chamber jazz arrangements during the initial Book of Rhapsodies sessions at Brooklyn Recording Studios in April 2012, so the ensemble reconvened at the same location in April 2015 for the recording of Book of Rhapsodies, Vol. 2. Raymond Scott, Reginald Foresythe, and Alec Wilder were again featured composers, and the album also included several Carpenter transcriptions and revisions of original rare arrangements by the late Hal Herzon, a '30s-era big-band reed player who, prior to giving up music in the '50s, recorded a quirky septet at his own studio in Hollywood. The Ghost Train Orchestra -- now featuring Carpenter, Lichtman, Cancura, Swift, Hasselbring, Caswell, Bortnick, Garcia, and Bates as well as alto saxophonist/flutist Ben Kono, violist Emily Bookwalter, and violinist Evan Price (with appearances by Gita Drummond [voice] and Rob Reich [accordion]) -- were joined on the recording by the Book of Rhapsodies Adult Choir and the Book of Rhapsodies Children's Choir. Book of Rhapsodies, Vol. 2 was released by Accurate Records in November 2017. ~ Dave Lynch

ORIGIN
Brooklyn, NY
GENRE
Jazz
FORMED
2006

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