Brian Carpenter: In Between The Cracks

DanMichael Reyes By

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AAJ: It seems that a lot of critics were stunned when you started Ghost Train Orchestra. You were with Beat Circus, which was this sort of avant-garde band then you shift to a project that focused on music from the swing era. The transition looked out of left field, but it's been done before. Ornette Coleman's first records were very bluesy records before he went on to free jazz. Do you see a connection between avant- garde jazz and early jazz?

BC: Certainly! It commands your attention like no other music can. That's what I meant about the late 1920s music. That particular period of early jazz is very much like that. It's a live music really [and] it's hard to capture on record. The band live is just so much crazier than what is on the recording. It's hard to describe, but it's closer to a free jazz aesthetic than you would think.

When I first saw Sam Rivers' big band, the first thing they did when they got on stage was this big free jazz freakout. It lasted for five or 10 minutes and you think, "Is this what's going to be for the next hour?" Then suddenly he counts off this piece that's super intricate with crazy time signatures and it goes into Sam Rivers land. That was inspiration for "Mojo Strut," at least our arrangement of it when we play a set. It's basically a free jazz thing over this arpeggiated thing, and then I'll count off the piece. So people when they come to see it, the first thing they hear is a free jazz thing, and it's not what they expected. They're like, "I thought I was going to see an early jazz kind of thing but then the guy's singing through a bullhorn." Then suddenly, I'll count it off and we'll go off.

But it works. Something about that piece—something about what Tiny Parham had written that piece—just works. So there's definitely a connection when you're playing live, it's not so obvious when you're listening to recordings. It's definitely similar, there's an emotional component to it where it's just the same.

AAJ: Are live performances from Book Of Rhapsodies similar to what is on the record or do you open it up more?

BC: Yeah, we open it up more for improvisation. The pieces are short in the recording. But basically the band has to watch me for cues. I mark everyone's part when we're going to open things up. It makes it a little more interesting for the audience. You're watching it, seeing these cues, and you're waiting for things to fall apart. It's kind of more interesting because I'm kind of up there cueing people and it's not really clear what's going on. If it was that tight [during] a live performance, then I don't think it would be as interesting. So we do open things up a little bit.

AAJ: The first record was music coming out of Chicago and Harlem from the '20s and '30s, this record highlights chamber jazz composers like Alec Wilder from the late '30s, and you might still release some previously recorded tracks. Do you see yourself moving towards the '40s and '50s and maybe share with us some other composers that were left in the cracks?

BC: I don't know. There's just so much to mind from the '20s and '30s right now. We just recorded the third record in September. That record is kind of a continuation of Hot House Stomp. It's basically those same composers: Tiny Parham, Fess Williams, and Charlie Johnson. We added another [composer] named Cecil Scott who had a band out of Springfield, Illinois. We brought in this bass saxophonist named Colin Stetson as a fourth reed.

We're going to be mixing that I think early next year [and] hopefully we can release that next year if we're lucky. Like I said, there's an entire volume of Book Of Rhapsodies that we might release at some point. So there's just so much there.

There's another interesting period of time in Berlin in the late 1920s and that's also an interesting area to explore as well. We've sort of just kind of started working on it. So, there's so many records to do, it's just a matter of how many can I possibly finish, or have time for. I have these other bands; I'm working on this band with the Confessions where I'm writing original music for that. So there's a push and pull here to figure out what I want to spend my time on. But I love working with Ghost Train Orchestra.

AAJ: In the economic state where it's hard to get a good paying gig and the trend are these small quartets or quintets, how do you manage to keep a larger ensemble afloat?

BC: I think it's hard to do. A lot of people I know don't do rehearsals and they structure the music so that they don't have to do rehearsals because rehearsals are expensive too. You're not paying people for rehearsals but there is time involved and not everyone is going to want to come to a rehearsal if they don't feel like the band is an investment in someway. I'm fortunate that I went to engineering school and I don't make a living off of music. It allows me to work on what I want to work on. If I don't want to play weddings, I don't—I don't have to do that if I don't want to. So the music that I'm involved in is exactly what I want to do and no more than that.

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