GTO To Record Album #2 in April

13th February 2012

After 12-14 months of developing new arrangements, the Ghost Train Orchestra will be heading back into the studio in April to record their follow-up to last year's acclaimed Hothouse Stomp. The album will move ahead 10 years from the first album, featuring all new arrangements of strange and adventurous chamber jazz from the late 1930s, featuring the full orchestra plus guitarist Avi Bortnick, bassist Michael Bates, and a small choir. Grammy award winning producer Danny Blume will once again be collaborating with Brian Carpenter on the album.

In preparation for the recording, GTO will be performing this material on two special shows in NYC leading up to the recording: Saturday February 18th at Barbes and Saturday March 31st at Jalopy in Brooklyn. See the EVENTS page for more details. If you're in the NY area during that time, don't miss it!


GTO Named Among Top 10 Lists of 2011

28th December 2011

The Ghost Train Orchestra's debut Hothouse Stomp has been named among several top ten lists for 2011. NPR's Patrick Jarenwattananon writes "It's weird and unfamiliar music; not quite big-band swing, not quite early New Orleans polyphony, it rewards the close listener with unexpected twists and turns." Of our performance in Boston last October, Jon Garelick of the Boston Phoenix writes "This was not a staid recreation, but a crackling performance that evoked the Prohibition era when the music was born. Oliver Amnuayphol of The Sound Room writes "If your musical tastes lean towards the dance-friendly jazzy, or blues-drenched and blearly (or really, anything in between), this album is a must."


Hothouse Stomp Named Among NPR's Best Jazz Albums of 2011

11th December 2011

The Ghost Train Orchestra's debut Hothouse Stomp is on NPR's top ten list of jazz albums released in 2011. Writes Patrick Jarenwattananon, "The Ghost Train Orchestra, an initiative of the trumpeter and composer Brian Carpenter, plays music scored by largely forgotten composers and arrangers of the late 1920s. It's fun music; there's a peppy, charged, vaudevillian feel, and you could dance to some of it, too. It's also weird and unfamiliar music; not quite big-band swing, not quite early New Orleans polyphony, it rewards the close listener with unexpected twists and turns. Carpenter largely plays it straight, at least as he discerned it from the original recordings, though some strings and a musical saw bolster his vision. Whatever he's done, it's a neat trick: It's old music which somehow sounds new.."

You can see the full list and listen to tracks here.


On the Genius of Alec Wilder

22nd November 2011

assets/img/photos/wilder-blowing-bubbles.jpgWe played a show last weekend performing all new arrangements of the music of Alec Wilder, among others. The band sounded incredible on some very difficult and adventurous arrangements. I'm very excited about the new direction in which the band is headed.

I discovered Alec Wilder's music after stumbling across a footnote in Gunther Schuller's massive jazz history book The Swing Era. Largely self-taught, he studied briefly at the Eastman School of Music but left without completing a degree. By all accounts Alec Wilder was a real character. As a teenager, he split from his family and lived in and out of the Algonquin Hotel throughout most of his adult life. He loved to laugh, loved his friends, and loved alcohol, which he struggled with. He was known to run in large circles -- he had friends in the jazz, classical, and popular music worlds and was clearly at ease composing in all these genres.

assets/img/photos/mitchmiller-oboe.jpgIn 1937 Wilder, with the help and organization of Eastman classmate and oboist Mitch Miller (who later became head of A&R for Columbia Records), recorded several strange and beautiful sides in New York City. Wilder imagined an octet with unusual instrumentation: oboe, flute, bassoon, clarinet, bass clarinet, harpsichord, bass, and drums. The octet recordings ("Octets") preceded by decades the Third Stream movement of the 1950s that Schuller spearheaded by combining jazz and classical concert music.

Wilder's music is not easily classifiable. The Octets are essentially chamber miniatures performed by musicians adept at swing. His music fell through the cracks and as a result his work is not as well-known as his contemporaries. In the 1930s, however, word soon got around to musicians in New York that Wilder was a composer to watch out for. It wasn't long before Frank Sinatra heard one of Wilder's classical pieces and approached Coumbia Records on Wilder's behalf to get him recorded.

assets/img/photos/sinatra-conducting.jpgThe record executives agreed to record the pieces but only if Sinatra himself conducted the session. At the session, Sinatra immediately disarmed the orchestra by telling them he knew nothing about conducting, but that he desperately wanted this music to sound its best, and appealed to their leadership. Sinatra had never conducted a note in his life and here he was headlined as conductor on a 78 cover with Wilder, the composer and bandleader, reduced to second billing. On seeing the cover, an irate Sinatra called the heads of Columbia to insist Wilder's name appear in the same type size as his own. The change in billing never occurred, but the album Frank Sinatra Conducts the Music of Alec Wilder went on to be successful both musically and comercially.

assets/img/photos/sinatra-wilder-cover.jpgOn first listen, it was immediately apparent to me why a young Sinatra would be so captivated by Alec Wilder: Wilder had an ear for melody, beautiful song-like melodies. Like Sinatra, I too became a Wilder evangelist, collecting as many 78s as I could find and asking nearly every musician I knew if they had heard of him (most had not). I began arranging the Octets for the Ghost Train Orchestra. Wilder's music is deceptively simple -- it is dense with rapid form changes and rather difficult to comprehend on a first reading. I heard all sorts of things in the Octets that appealed to me. Wilder's music was so lyrical, it felt to me that the Octets were almost gasping to be sung. It also occurred to me that Wilder's music was very modern and should be approached that way. I find that Wilder's music is continually rewarding on subsequent listens. The more you listen, the more is revealed and it is revealed very slowly over time. I hope you too will experience the beauty and wonder of Alec Wilder's music through these new arrangements.