Part sass, part throwback. That’s the recipe for Book of Rhapsodies (Accurate, 2013), the second outing by the Ghost Train Orchestra.
The ensemble consists of Brian Carpenter, trumpet, slide trumpet and voice; Andy Laster, alto saxophone, flute; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Petr Cancura, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Curtis Hasselbring, trombone; Ron Caswell, tuba; Mazz Swift, violin; Tanya Kalmanovitch, viola; Avi Bortnick, guitar; Michael Bates, double bass; and Rob Garcia, drums. Additional players are Brandon Seabrook, banjo on “The Happy Farmer,” Matt Samolis, flute on “The Children Met the Train” and “Revolt of the Yes Men,” and the Book of Rhapsodies Choir: Yolanda Scott, soprano; Katie Seiler, mezzo-soprano; Mazz Swift, alto; Tomas Cruz, tenor; Brian Carpenter, baritone; and Joe Chappel, bass.
Book of Rhapsodies is a different kind of cover album. Instead of the usual offerings by jazz greats or the American Songbook, Ghost Train revisits some off-the-beaten-path compositions. These songs are adapted from recordings by the Alec Wilder Octet, the John Kirby Sextet, the Raymond Scott Quintet, and Reginald Forsythe and His New Music.
Wilder’s “Dance Man Buys a Farm” is a cool, happy-go-lucky piece. The choir complements the instruments with wordless chants – sort of a group scat. The strings fit prominently. The various voices blend, mix and match and overlap for a full, pleasing sound.
One of Scott’s most widely recognized compositions is “Powerhouse,” a piece often used in animated features to accompany assembly line activity. For this project, Ghost Train Orchestra chose a lesser-known title, “At an Arabian House Party.” The reed instruments carry the melody over a slick, bass groove with the brass underneath. The mood shifts from that of a swing dance to a caravan trudging across an Arabian desert.
The set closes with Scott’s “Celebration on the Planet Mars,” the longest, most free-spirited track in the set. Bortnick cuts loose about two-thirds into the piece with strong support from the horns, Bates and Garcia. The song also goes through some melodic transitions, shifting form blistering, high-energy movement to tranquility, a moment to pause and reflect.
The Ghost Train Orchestra was formed in 2006 after Carpenter was named musical director for an event marking the 60th anniversary of the Regent Theater in Arlington, Massachusetts.