The Ghost Train Orchestra's usual focus is on the "hot jazz" of the Twenties and Thirties but in 2013 they put out a CD of whimsical chamber jazz pieces, newly arranged by Carpenter for this band, from composers like Raymond Scott and Reginald Forsythe called Book of Rhapsodies. Now they have released a followup, Book of Rhapsodies, Vol. II which goes even deeper into the genre to the point of including three pieces by a completely forgotten arranger of the time, Hal Herzon.
There is only one Raymond Scott composition this time out, the opening "Confusion Among a Fleet of Taxicabs," but several of the other tunes carry his air of whirling cartoonish delirium. This particularly applies to Herzon's three arrangements. "Hare and the Hounds" flies over hill and dale with violin and clarinet in the lead and "Deserted Ballroom" could be the soundtrack for a Max Fleischer haunted house cartoon with the comical menace of its whooshing voices and swooping horns and the occasional injection of hot jazz soloing. Meanwhile Herzon's "Pedigree on a Pomander Walk" sports a clockwork rhythm close to Scott's "The Toy Trumpet" underpinning the whimsical, toy-like beats provided by the chorus and orchestra.
Voices play an important part in this set, from Carpenter's deadpan baritone introductions of the various pieces to the wordless massed vocals that flow through several tracks enhancing and filling out the sound. Vocal elements are featured up front on two tracks. On Alec Wilder's "A Little Girl Grows Up" Gita Drummond does girlish "la-la-las" in front of the chorus in a small Blossom Dearie-like voice over a bouncy melody played with flair by the orchestra. Wilder's "Kindergarten Flower Pageant" has a children's choir singing lyrics by Carpenter's son Alex over an endearing march theme laid out by flutes, tuba, and accordion.
Wilder's "Walking Home In Spring" sounds like a Forties' dance band in a relaxed mood playing a pleasantly sauntering melody that's passed around various members of the orchestra while his "House Detective" is a cute bit of sophisticated swing with space for nice clarinet and violin solos. Then there are Reginald Forsythe's compositions which really come out as patchwork quilts in Carpenter's arrangements. "Lament for Congo" sounds like a mutation of Henry Mancini and Raymond Scott with its bouncy swing horns, twangy rock guitar and solemn clarinet soling, while "Deep Forest" mixes thumping drums out of early Duke Ellington and a bit of hot swing in with the sweeping sweetness of the voices and strings. Forsythe's "Garden of Weed" brings the CD to a rousing close with its slow drag beat reminiscent of Ellington's "The Mooche" and Don Redman's "Chant Of The Weed," and wailing blues clarinet by Dennis Lichtman that step by step leads the entire band into a screaming climax.
The inventiveness of Carpenter's arrangements and the band's playing, particularly Carpenter, Lichtman, and violinist Mazz Swift, is really impressive. The addition of voices adds a lush new dimension to this music and the emphasis on forgotten composers like Wilder and Forsythe brings in a greater variety of sounds than you usually hear in this type of retro novelty music. This is sassy, funny and sometimes quite beautiful, an outstanding piece of work.
Confusion Among a Fleet of Taxicabs; Hare and the Hounds; A Hymn to Darkness Part 1: Deep Forest; Pedigree on a Pomander Walk; Walking Home in Spring; Deserted Ballroom; A Little Girl Grows Up; Fantasy Impromptu; Kindergarten Flower Pageant; A Hymn to Darkness Part 2: Lament for Congo; The House Detective Registers; Garden of Weed.
Brian Carpenter: trumpet, voice, tape loops, toy piano, arrangements; Dennis Lichtman: clarinet; Ben Kono: alto saxophone, flute; Petr Cancura: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, clarinet; Mazz Swift: violin; Emily Bookwalter: viola; Curtis Hasselbring: trombone; Ron Caswell: tuba; Avi Bortnick: guitar; Michael Bates: double bass; Rob Garcia: drums; Gita Drummond: girl's voice on "A Little Girl Grows Up"; Evan Price: violin; Rob Reich: accordion on "Kindergarten Flower Pageant". Book of Rhapsodies Adult Choir: Aubrey Johnson: soprano; Katie Seiler: mezzo-soprano; Mazz Swift: alto; Tomas Cruz: tenor; Brian Carpenter: baritone, narration; Joe Chappel: bass.Book of Rhapsodies Children's Choir: Boston City Singers Cambridge Children's Chorus Directed by Wendy Silverberg - Lucy Alexander, Lucas Berman, Anisa Brown, Gita Drummond, Hannah Erickson, Nina Mazereeuw, Ava Posiko, Layla Posiko, Kiera Putrih, Annie Stone-Peterson.