Old-time jazz is not corny. Got it? Players and composers in the ’20s and ’30s were going wilder, and having more fun in the process, than most of the population of the modern jazz scene, overstuffed as it is with self-impressed grad students dribbling out nerdy, interchangeable arrangements and pointlessly tricky, unmemorable solos, could even imagine. Brian Carpenter, trumpeter and leader of the Ghost Train Orchestra, is on a mission to make 21st Century listeners aware of just how much awesome music was being made in the early decades of the 20th. Not by rehashing the work of the big names (Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, et al.), but by rooting out obscurities and tweaking the arrangements until they pop like fireworks.
The Ghost Train Orchestra‘s second album, Book of Rhapsodies, is out this month, and it’s nuts in the best possible way. He’s taken compositions by one group you may have heard of—the Raymond Scott Quintette—and three others you probably haven’t (the Alec Wilder Octet, the John Kirby Sextet, and Reginald Foresythe and His New Music) and arranged them for a 12-piece band and a choir. These pieces have titles like “Dance Man Buys a Farm,” “Revolt of the Yes Men” and “Her Old Man Was (At Times) Suspicious,” and they live up to them. Vocal chants, exotic violin lines, and stinging electric guitar surround the sometimes blaring, sometimes seductive horns, while the rhythm section keeps it all swinging. The lineup includes saxophonists Andy Laster and Petr Cancura, violinist Mazz Swift, and trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, among others. The Ghost Train Orchestra is somewhat akin to Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society in the way it drags the past into the present, but I can also hear some of the anarchic wildness of J.G. Thirlwell in the arrangements. Basically, they’re a hell of a lot of fun.
Stream “It’s Silk, Feel It!” from Book of Rhapsodies: