Brian Carpenter / Ghost Train Orchestra

Hothouse Stomp: The Music of 1920s Chicago and Harlem

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The music gathered and interpreted on this thoroughly winning disc all comes from a period before the emergence of the big-band jazz sound, a time when horn sections were smaller, rhythm sections less strictly codified, and the jazz sound itself much less regimented and refined. In fact, the word "jazz" hardly seems to apply here; this is romping, stomping, whinnying, exuberant dance music that sounds like it's more interested in promoting a sort of low-grade dancehall mayhem than in doing anything as decorous and refined as swinging. Bandleader Brian Carpenter put together the Ghost Train Orchestra when he was commissioned to provide music for the 90th birthday of a movie theater in Arlington, Massachusetts; the band then honed its chops playing this repertoire at a string of monthly concerts in Manhattan before going into the studio. The music is by a roster of composers whose names will be unfamiliar to all but hot music fanatics: Fess Williams, Tiny Parham, John Nesbitt, Charlie Johnson. There are times when it strongly evokes second-line New Orleans (especially on the wailing "Hot Bones and Rice") and others when elements like an expertly wielded musical saw bring in an equally strong flavor of vaudeville theatrics ("Voodoo"). Violinist Mazz Swift provides lovely vocals on the one track that will likely be familiar to many listeners, a slinky rendition of "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You?" Just about every track is full of those kinds of musical treats and surprises, and it all adds up to a relentlessly rollicking good time.

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