Ghost Train Orchestra

Hot Town

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Trumpeter/bandleader Brian Carpenter and his Ghost Train Orchestra continue to kick out lively renditions of idiosyncratic early jazz on 2015's Hot Town, the band's third Accurate label release. Although the album chronologically follows Ghost Train's 2013 sophomore Book of Rhapsodies -- which found Carpenter and company covering quirky '30s and '40s "chamber jazz" composed by Raymond Scott, Charlie Shavers, Reginald Foresythe, and Alec Wilder -- Hot Town dips back into the vintage jazz of late-'20s Harlem and Chicago first covered on the group's debut disc, 2011's Hot House Stomp, which featured 21st century takes on music by McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Charlie Johnson's Paradise Orchestra, Fess Williams' Royal Flush Orchestra, and Tiny Parham & His Musicians. As it turned out, Carpenter's briefcase was stuffed with more of his arrangements than could possibly be covered on Hot House Stomp, so Hot Town finds Ghost Train back in that familiar territory, putting Carpenter's spin on additional numbers by the bands of Johnson, Williams, and Parham, while visiting the music of Cecil Scott's Bright Boys for the first time. Although the Brooklyn-based (well, aside from Boston denizen Carpenter, that is) nonet might cause a curmudgeonly musicologist to fret about liberties taken with the music, these tunes will likely sound remarkably faithful to the originals -- and certainly faithful in spirit -- among casual listeners and even those who fancy themselves astute jazz fans.

To be sure, the train barreling toward "Hot Town" on the opening title track, originally recorded by Fess Williams and his sextet in 1929, is now fueled by the thundering bass sax of guest Colin "Lungs of Steel" Stetson, who starts the number off by shaking the earth in a manner wholly unlike Williams' jaunty, comical vocal-peppered intro. It's a massive -- and effective -- attention grabber, but uncharacteristic of the music that follows, in which Ghost Train prove to be a feisty outfit overflowing with catchy melodies and rhythms fueled by pumping tuba, seasoned by strummy banjo and spirited strings, and featuring high-flying compact solos squeezed into the tight brass and reed ensemble charts. Picking favorites among the album's 12 tracks is a near impossibility, although a pair of Charlie Johnson numbers -- "Mo'Lasses," incredibly given a first airing here after being rescued from oblivion by crate-digger Mitchell Kaba, and "You Ain't the One," with vocalist Mazz Swift revisiting the sweet spirit of '20s-'30s singer Monette Moore -- deserve particular mention, as do Tiny Parham's "Friction," with Swift and Jordan Voelker's manic strings and Dennis Lichtman's sailing clarinet, as well as the two Cecil Scott tunes, a somewhat ramshackle and woozy "Bright Boy Blues" and an astoundingly tight uptempo "Springfield Stomp," its myriad changes tossed out at a dizzying, frenetic pace. The Ghost Train Orchestra features musicians -- saxophonist Andy Laster and trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, to name two -- who consistently operate outside the mainstream, and Hot Town proves no one covers singular jazz from a bygone era better than these singular jazzers of today.

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