Hot Town, Ghost Train Orchestra’s third album, follows in the very large footsteps the ensemble created for itself with its 2011 debut Hothouse Stomp, which made it onto the NPR Top 10 Jazz Albums of the Year list. It is also the follow-up to the group’s equally fine sophomore effort, Book of Rhapsodies (2013).
Like its predecessors, this release specializes in band music from the early decades of the last century – not the big names spotlighted over the years, but lesser-known outfits. Indeed, it spotlights names long forgotten, if ever known even to the most avid jazz fans. Nonetheless, it is fun music, and in the hands of the Ghost Train Orchestra’s musical director and arranger/trumpeter Brian Carpenter, it is music that sparkles.
According to Carpenter’s liner notes, the new album features unreleased arrangements omitted from the debut disc, along with some new pieces. The music is culled from Chicago and New York-based bands like Fess Williams’ Royal Flush Orchestra, Cecil Scott’s Bright Boys, Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra, and Tiny Parham and His Musicians.
This is not a sentimental nostalgia trip. It’s hard to be nostalgic for the music of a quartet of bands you’ve never heard of. The Ghost Train Orchestra takes this music and fits it out for a new day. It is music that has been nursed, rehearsed, and pushed through a horn giving birth to the blues, with a modern touch and a something more as well.
Ghost Train opens with the album’s title song, which has an almost otherworldly quality at the beginning before it moves into a train imitation and blasts into the hot town. They end the set with the jumping “Charleston Is the Best Dance After All.” In between there are forgotten gems like the quirky “Mo’lasses,” a happy romp through “Skag-A-Lag,” a low-down “Harlem Drag,” and “Bright Boy Blues.” There are vocals by violinist Mazz Stewart on “You Ain’t the One” and “You Can’t Go Wrong.”
Hot Town is music you’ve more than likely never heard before, but more than likely it is music you’ll want to hear again and again. It’s that infectious.
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