Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 11/22/08

Nine-piece band squeezed into the little back room playing hot jazz from the late 20s and early 30s, all of it good and much of it sensational. Much in the same vein as Michael Arenella, trumpeter Carpenter and his crew play boisterous three-minute Prohibition-era dancehall hits. While it was strange to watch the crowd simply sitting there while the band ripped through one tune after another – this is dance music, after all – it was a treat to be literally on top of the band, watching the interplay between musicians. Jazz snobs may scorn this stuff, but it’s great fun. “This is Woody Allen jazz,” one astute woman in the crowd remarked to her boyfriend between songs.


Minor keys are what this band does best, and that’s what they opened with, a frenetic, somewhat klezmerish stomp from 1929 called Mojo Strut, Carpenter playing harp through a bullhorn to add the strange, carnivalesque edge that continued throughout most of their set. They did a couple of ridiculously catchy numbers written by Gus Williams (Charles Mingus’ uncle), the best of these being Friction, driven by plinking banjo and soaring violin. The single best song of the night, the boisterous yet haunting Boy in the Boat had an early Ellington feel, its eeriness brought out most intensely by a sizzling violin solo and some expertly spooky work by One Ring Zero’s Michael Hearst, sitting in on theremin.


Because the songs are short, this group’s solos are brief: the only extended improvisations of the night were intros, duels in fact: first sax and trombone, then sax (Jessica Lurie bringing a  modernist yet smartly melodic sensibility to the old stuff whenever she was called on) vs. clarinet. A couple of times the banjoist began songs using a bow, building tension to the breaking point. After over an hour onstage, Carpenter – now playing slide trumpet – took them scurrying out the way they’d come in, dark and mysterious. Kudos to Barbes for squeezing them – literally – into the room. A band this good deserves a stand at the Vanguard. They’d bring out a lot of people out of the woodwork. Probably some ghosts too.

November 25, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , ,

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