To write that Brian Carpenter has had an interesting career would be an incomplete statement since he holds so many. By day Carpenter is an engineer, but there's also his radio shows, his acting career, a film he's working on about Albert Ayler
, his band Brian Carpenter and the Confessions where he sings and composes, and more befitting for our purposes, there are his two groups, Beat Circus and The Ghost Train Orchestra.
A quick glance into Beat Circus and Ghost Train Orchestra's music could put the listener in disarray and leave them wondering if both groups contain the same Brian Carpenter. Beat Circus is an Americana and country type group with flashes of avant-garde while Ghost Train Orchestra was conceived as part of a commission to play music from the early swing era. But there are connections and similarities that lie in both groups (not counting Carpenter's involvement). The connection is in the spirit of both the music of Beat Circus and Ghost Train Orchestra. Both groups are veryfor lack of a better termweird. But strangeness isn't necessarily a bad critique, it's just a visceral reaction the listener normally clings to when being presented by music that s/he is not accustomed to. This is what Brian Carpenter relishes, bringing in music that falls by the wayside of today'sand yesterday'smusic in order to share them with his audience. All About Jazz:
During a previous interview, I heard that you were playing really complex Don Ellis
charts during high school? That must have been super hard. What was that like? Brian Carpenter:
That band was led by a guy named Mark Nelson who was in his second year as a band director, so he was very enthusiastic and ambitious. [Nelson] brought in all these kind of complex arrangements by Bob Curnow
who was a great arranger for the Stan Kenton
bandand some Don Ellis things. It was an eye opener to arranging for a trumpet playeror any musician playing in those bands. At that time I had only played classical music. I started out playing trumpet, but just like you [would] normally do in a middle school, and then I got into jazz in high school due to this particular band director.
He would bring in all these really hard charts. I don't know if we played them that well. I think it was a pretty good band; I'm sure if I heard it now I would be horrified. But it was a lot of fun to play those because it wasn't standards. One of the things he did was bring Bob Curnow arrangements of Blood Sweat & Tears tunes. It was from a record called Stan Kenton Plays Chicago
(Creative World, 1974). [Nelson] grew up playing in the '70s and went to college during that time, so he brought in all the stuff that he liked, and Stan Kenton Plays Chicago
was one of the records that he liked. It was Stan Kenton's band playing early arrangements of Chicago and early Blood Sweat & Tears and it's crazy!
We played a few charts off of that and it was super inspirational. The material was really bizarre and I think that [Nelson] was the one who turned me onto Don Ellis. I think we played a couple of Don Ellis pieces, but I don't remember what they were. But I don't think they were anything like what you might be thinking, like things that are in 19/4 or something like that. AAJ:
That was my next question actually. I was under the impression that you were playing really difficult meters. Even something in 7/4 would be difficult for a high school student. BC:
[Laughs] No, I think even the Don Ellis charts might have been in 5/4 or maybe 7/4. But it was progressive for a high school band. It was just an ambitious band director. He was young and ambitious so he was like, "I'm going to try these things out with my top jazz band and see if we can do them." I don't know where he got the arrangements for it, maybe UNT? He was basically playing college charts for a high school band. AAJ:
I know that you have a healthy respect for third stream jazz. When did you become aware of third stream? Was it around the same time you were playing in this high school band, or was it during college? BC:
I think it was during college, I think I got introduced to Carla Bley
by a friend who was in Sam Rivers
' big band. Sam Rivers was an amazing multi-instrumentalist and composer who passed away not too long ago. I knew him really well, he moved to Florida. He kind of retired down in Florida, but he didn't really retire. He was still playing and writing all the way up to his '80s.
He had this big banda lot of my friends played on this big bandand one of the guys said, "If you like this band, you should listen to Carla Bley." So that was my introduction to Carla Bley, and I went out and bought all these Carla Bley records. I really liked her writing. I got into Charlie Haden
through that; it was not until I got into Carla Bley that I realized that she was involved in Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra
(Impluse! 1969) and that's how I got that record.
When I was in college, I was really interested in Miles Davis
as a trumpet player. Every trumpet player has to go through a Miles thing. I got a lot of those records; I still have the vinyl of Miles Ahead
(Columbia, 1957), Sketches In Spain
(Columbia, 1960), and Porgy & Bess
(Columba, 1958). But it wasn't until much later decades laterthat I was listening to those records with an ear for arranging. That's what's so interesting, you can listen to those records as trumpet player and be blown away by Miles, and then you can listen to them as an arranger and be blown away by Gil Evans
I've had those records forever and I pulled them out about five years ago. I listened to them again and said, "This arranging is so brilliant!" [Evans]' use of the tuba in Miles Ahead
is just amazing! His use of the low brass and French horn instruments you don't usually associate with jazzwas very informative.
So the Ghost Train Orchestra is an arranging vehicle for me. I'm using that as way to learn arranging and voicings in order to apply it to original music that I'm writing. That's how that band is a challenge for me.