The only downside to listening to old jazz recordings from the 1920s is that they sound as though they were made in the 1920s. Brian Carpenter is making a career out of remedying that, and he continues his winning formula on Hot Town, the third album from his Ghost Train Orchestra.
The Boston-based trumpeter, arranger and bandleader leads his tight 10-member unit (plus two guests) through a quick dozen tunes steeped in the jazz’s earliest days in Harlem and Chicago. Aside from Fats Waller’s “Alligator Crawl,” these aren’t the best-known songs in the songbook, and the album is all the fresher for it. The opener, an original composition called “Hot Town,” is a riot-train jazz as its best. Harmonica, horns and strings combine to mimic the whistle, engine and bell of a steam locomotive before the band starts to swing.
That’s it for gimmickry, though. The arrangements are inventive, and the solos come fast and furious-from clarinetist Dennis Lichtman’s undulating turn on “Mo’lasses” to trombonist Curtis Hasselbring’s rapid-slide break on “Charleston Is the Best Dance After All.” Whether it’s the slow-stomping “Bright Boy Blues” or the nutty-fast “Skag-a-Lag,” Hot Town is all about fun.
Carpenter has a lot going on these days; he also leads the wackadoodle Boston collective Beat Circus, works with a pop group called the Confessions, produces radio documentaries at Boston College’s station and recently recorded with the avant-rock group Swans. Hopefully he will find time to keep Ghost Train Orchestra running. Word has it he’s already working on a sequel to GTO’s 2013 Book of Rhapsodies. Good.