Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ghost Train Orchestra, Book of Rhapsodies

The Ghost Train Orchestra with their album Book of Rhapsodies (Accurate 5064) takes a good idea and makes of it a palpable reality. Brian Carpenter and his large ensemble-big-band-cum-orchestra with the addition of a wordless choir this time out (a second album) focus on five swing-era composers and some of their innovatively quirky jazz-meets-classical-meets-novelty numbers and expand the original arrangements for a larger conflagration.

The five are Alec Wilder, Raymond Scott, Charlie Shavers, Reginald Foresythe and Louis C. Singer.

The music is excellently (re-)done, filled with a kind of iconoclasm that at the time fascinated prescient listeners and had a certain cache but was not taken as seriously by the mainstream jazz establishment of the day as the music might have been.

Well, that is partly because this music did not fit neatly into categories as established--though Shavers in the context of John Kirby's small group did impress a small coterie of jazz-oriented listeners during the band's extended run on 52nd Street. Part of the stick-in-the-mud quality involves the classical elements. And part of it is sheer eccentricity.

No matter all that. We have this recording to savor some of the music of these five. The modern re-arrangements make a case for the potential currency of the music a la the space-age bachelor resurgence we have seen, tongue-in-cheek or no. This was the exotic music of the day in the American pop world. It is more than that in it is some very well put-together music that transcends origins.

I am not quite sure what to make of the wordless choir parts but they add some depth to the sound though in a camp sort of way. The point though is the overall thrust of the music. The Ghost Train Orchestra captures the quirkiness along with the sophisticated conceptual compositional stances. And they manage to make it all good fun in the process. That is saying a great deal.

Listen, by all means.

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