By Frank Alkyer | Published November 2017
Led by singer, songwriter, trumpeter, composer, sound scavenger, arranger and producer Brian Carpenter, the terrific ensemble Ghost Train Orchestra has now released its fourth album, Book Of Rhapsodies Vol. II. The band specializes in diving back into the more composed side of early jazz. The first Book Of Rhapsodies disc (released in 2011) focused on the music of four composers: Alec Wilder, Charlie Shavers, Reginald Foresythe and Raymond Scott. The goal was simple—to bring attention to the music of these writers before it was forgotten. For Vol. II, GTO finished off several Scott, Foresythe and Wilder compositions left over from the first recording sessions and added to them three pieces by an all-but-forgotten composer/arranger named Hal Herzon. The liner-notes essay describing how this music was uncovered and resuscitated is enough to purchase it. (So there will be no spoiler in this review.) Suffice it to say, Carpenter and company do an amazing job of taking the old and making it brand-spanking-new again. The music on this program has a tongue-in-cheek smirk, a quirky sense that the composers were getting away with something grand when they wrote the music and that GTO is still getting away with it, wearing a big grin, today. Scott’s “Confusion Among A Fleet Of Taxi Cabs” is 103 seconds of pedal to the metal. “Hare And The Hounds” by Fabian Andre and Hal Herzon is the perfect chase-scene music. It’s quick and light and has moments that will make you laugh. “A Hymn To Darkness: Deep Forest” and several other tunes on the program give Carpenter an opportunity to use a choir for oohs, aahs and baas. It’s a great way to use human voices as another instrument in the orchestra. What makes all of this music work are Carpenter’s total dedication to the arrangements, his love of these bygone composers and a sense of pure, joyous fun. On Wilder’s “Kindergarten Flower Pageant,” Carpenter enlists his son to write lyrics to go with the tune, sung sweetly by a children’s choir. In short, anything goes here. This is a group that performs regularly around the New York area with a home base at a club called the Jalopy Theater in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook. I still haven’t seen this band, but, rest assured, I’ll track them down the next time I’m in New York. I’ve got a strong feeling the only thing better than listening to this music is hearing it live.