Saturday, September 27, 2014

Book of Rhapsodies

CD front: Accurate Records, CD c-7866edc (2013)
The late 1930s and early 1940s were the highlight of swing jazz in the U.S.A. and the big band was considered the essential combination for creating and performing elaborate arrangements of swing music. Bandleaders like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie among many others had success with their orchestras' formula of swing, however, if the big band version of swing jazz had become mainstream, the development and renewal of jazz was assigned to smaller ensembles. Such an ensemble was bassist John Kirby' Sextet which performed highly elaborate arrangements of swing jazz by very skilled musicians.

The John Kirby Sextet
The Sextet resided and performed at the Onyx Club in New York and released many records of high musical standard from 1937 to 1942. John Kirby and his men were popular with both the public and critics, the orchestra was often promoted as 'the biggest little band in the land', probably to match the general demand for big band swing music. The musical arrangements of the ensemble were mostly prepared by the trumpet player of the group, Charlie Shavers, who also composed one of the sextet's popular hits, 'Undecided', since then a part of the swing standard book.

Charlie Shavers
Charlie Shavers' skills as a musician, arranger and composer helped extending his outlook into other areas than jazz and popular music at the time. He made new arrangements of themes from classical music and incoporated them in the repertoire of the sextet's performance and recordings, well-developed examples of what has been called 'chamber jazz'. Some of this more experimental work by Shavers is almost forgotten today, however, there are three examples in new arrangements for big band included on the shown CD above by Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra. The CD further includes music by three other extraordinary composers and arrangers, who experimented with influences from other sources than jazz in the late 1930s - they are Raymond Scott, Alec Wilder and Reignald Foresythe. - Here's an
example of The Ghost Train Orchestra's version of one of Charlie Shavers'classical inspired tunes featured on the CD -

The Ghost Train Orchestra was founded in 2006 by Brian Carpenter , who is a composer, arranger, producer, engineer, singer/songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Brian Carpenter is the trumpeter, arranger and director of the Ghost Train Orchestra, a New York based big band featuring four reed players, three brass (trumpet, trombone and tuba), violin and viola, guitar, double bass and drums - more about the musicians of the orchestra, here

Brian Carpenter conducting The Ghost Train Orchestra (photo by Peter Ganushkin)
The Ghost Train Orchestra released its first CD in 2011 on the Accurate Records label, the CD was titled Hot House Stomp and contained new arrangements of mostly forgotten jazz compositions from the 1920s originally played by Chicago or Harlem based big bands like Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Fess Williams’ Royal Flush Orchestra, and Tiny Parham and His Musicians
CD front: Hot House Stomp, Accurate Records (2011)
The CD was well received by both critics and the public and has contributed to a renewed interest in research of unexpected great music of the past that otherwise would have been left to oblivion or the dusty shelves of excentric collectors of 78 rpm records.

In 2013 The Ghost Train Orchestra released its second CD, the above shown Book of Rhapsodies containing Brian Carpenter’s arrangements and modernistic reimaginings of four unusual ensembles from the late 1930s: The Alec Wilder Octet, The John Kirby Sextet, The Raymond Scott Quintette, and Reginald Foresythe and His New Music. The orchestra has been enlarged with a six-piece choir in some of the tracks, and Brian Carpenter explains his idea with the project this way: " On the surface, this project is about rescuing some long forgotten compositions from the late 1930s on 78s and rearranging them for performance and recording in the present. But it goes beyond that into interpretation and improvisation and in some cases, radical re-imagining. The whole project started when I came across the surreal and beautiful late 1930s chamber jazz of Alec Wilder. I started collecting the original 78s and became a Wilder evangelist, telling everyone I knew about him. From there I found four other bandleaders active during that time who were working in a similar vein (unusual instrumentation, hybrid between jazz and classical.)"

Alec Wilder
Alec Wilder (1907-1980) was an American composer, largely self taught and writing popular songs like "I'll Be Around" (a hit for the Mills Brothers), "While We're Young" (recorded by Peggy Lee and many others), "Blackberry Winter", "Where Do You Go?" (recorded by Frank Sinatra) and "It's So Peaceful in the Country". In addition to writing popular songs, Wilder also composed classical pieces for exotic combinations of orchestral instruments. The Alec Wilder Octet, including Mitch Miller on oboe, recorded several of his originals for Brunswick Records in 1938-40. More info on Alec Wilder including music examples at this website - There are four examples of Wilder's strange music with funny and surreal titles included on The Ghost Train Orchestra's Book of Rhapsodies. I'll insert an example of the Wilder Octet's recording of his composition titled 'Her Old Man Was Suspicious' from 1941, and then the version by Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra 

Here is the version of the same tune as played by The Ghost Train Orchestra and featured on the Book of Rhapsodies CD

Among the twelve tracks of the CD there are also three compositions by Raymond Scott (1908-1994), another excentric composer and bandleader, who excelled in both jazz and popular music besides being a producer and sound engineer. His music has been rediscovered and recorded in later years by the Dutch Beau Hunks orchestra, and the Ghost Train Orchestra contributes with excellent re-arrangements of Scott's 'At An Arabian House Party', 'The Happy Farmer' and the futuristic 'Celebration on the Planet Mars' originally recorded by Raymond Scott's Quintette late 1930s - here's the version of the last mentioned by The Ghost Train Orchestra as recorded on the Book of Rhapsodies CD

There are further two compositions by Reignald Forsythe (1907-1958) featured on the Book of Rhapsodies CD.

Reignald Foresythe
Reignald Foresythe was a British jazz pianist, arranger, composer, and bandleader who spent part of his career in the U.S.A.. In the second half of the 1920s he played piano in Paul Howard's Quality Serenaders in California, he wrote songs as well and one of them, 'Deep Forest', was arranged for and recorded by Earl Hines' orchestra. Foresythe also arranged scores for Paul Whiteman and recorded with Benny Goodman, John Kirby, and Gene Krupa. In Britain he spent much of his career on the dance band scene but he also assembled a studio recording group called "The New Music Of Reginald Foresythe". Between 1933-1936 he recorded for UK Columbia and UK Decca, usually spotlighting his own unusual jazzy tone poems. Among the more well known were "Serenade To A Wealthy Widow," "Garden Of Weed," "Dodging a Divorcee," and "Revolt Of The Yes-Men." His recordings featured reeds and sax, but no horns. 

Reignald Foresythe may be forgotten today, but Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra relcorded two of his characteristic compositions from the 'New Music' ensemble - 'Volcanic (Eruption for Orchestra)' and 'Revolt of the Yes Men'. Together with the remaining material on the CD this music sets spotlight on some unusual contributions to jazz and popular music of the late 1930s, here excellently performed by the skilled musicians featured in The Ghost Train Orchestra guided by Brian Carpenter. The title of the CD points to a musical form not in vogue in contemporary music, however, the musical rhapsody defined as an episodic instrumental composition of indefinite form fits well with the contents of the CD, I think.

The Book of Rhapsodies is the second CD from Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra and released in 2013. The music contained in the twelve tracks of the CD features compositions from the repertoire of four unusual ensembles from the late 1930s: John Kirby's Sextet, Raymond Scott's Quintette, Alec Wilder's Octet and Reignald Foresythe's 'New Music' ensemble, everything arranged for The Ghost Train Orchestra by Brian Carpenter and excellently performed. - The CD may need a couple of listening through to get used to the music, but repeated listening definitly is rewarding. The CD is an example of contemporary music with roots in a branch of unusual music that otherwise would have been expelled to the growing field of oblivion - and a guideline to the possible development of future projects in jazz.- The CD is available for purchase at the website of the Ghost Train Orchestra.

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