Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Brian Carpenter Resurrects Obscure Jazz Treasures from the Gatsby Era

Hothouse Stomp, the new album by Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra, captures a magical demimonde in American music from between roughly 1928 and 1931. Forget for a minute that by transcribing and arranging eleven now-obscure songs from that era, Carpenter has rescued them from the even smaller demimondes of 78 RMP record collectors and musicians who still play this kind of stuff. First and foremost, these rapidfire gems from Harlem and Chicago are some of that era’s coolest and most controversial party music, the P-Funk or hip-hop of that time. Kids danced to it until their feet hurt, and now so can you even if you can’t afford a Victrola or any those old 78s which now sell for ridiculous prices. On one level, many of the songs here have a quaintly frantic Keystone Kops vibe and a droll wit, but they also have a level of sophistication that far surpasses most of the era’s pop music. Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton are the big names that everybody remembers, but at the top of their game Charlie Johnson, Tiny Parham and Fess Williams were just as good. Carpenter’s imaginative new charts pay homage to the originals while freeing them from the narrow time constraints of a 78. The band here plays them joyously, sometimes almost conspiratorially: Carpenter on trumpet, harmonica and vocals on one number; Dennis Lichtman on clarinet; Andy Laster on alto sax; Matt Bauder on tenor and alto sax and clarinet; Curtis Hasselbring on trombone; Jordan Voelker on viola and singing saw; Mazz Swift on violin and vocals; Brandon Seabrook on banjo; Ron Caswell on tuba and Rob Garcia on drums.

Carpenter opens the album with a big, dramatic harmonica crescendo and then they’re off. Mojo Strut, by Chicago-based Tiny Parham and His Musicians, has an brooding Ellingtonian minor-key intensity under its bouncy beat but also a drum break that’s practically Spike Jones, and some crazed conversation between the saxes at the end. With its lush strings beneath the romping tune, Stop Kidding, originally done by Harlem band McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, blends serious and silly in the span of barely two and a half minutes. Another Cotton Pickers number, Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You (a popular staple of the oldtimey circuit), gets more of a New Orleans vibe with a good-natured alto solo, and matching vocals from Swift. Voodoo, by Parham, goes for a wary Black and Tan Fantasy feel with some quiet sizzle from the banjo on the way in and Voelker’s theremin-like saw building the atmosphere to somewhat crazed and dazed layers of horns. Harlem pianist Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra’s Blues Have Sure Got Me has a similar minor-key restraint, with the saw oscillating eerily behind Swift’s hushed, wounded voice.

A casually soulful, trombone-fueled, practically five-minute midtempo version of Johnson’s Hot Bones & Rice foreshadows how this stuff would morph into swing and dixieland. But enough of the intricacies of the music – as fun as it is to blast on the ipod, just try sitting still to the triumphantly swirling clarinet on Dixie Stomp, the lickety-split Lucky 3-6-5, the pensive sway of The Boy in the Boat, or Harlem bandleader Fess Williams’ seemingly calypso-flavored Slide, Mr. Jelly, Slide. They wrap up the album with a warm, summery Johnson tune, the surprisingly titled Hot Tempered Blues. If this often deliriously fun album piques your curiosity, some (but not all) of the originals can be streamed at the irreplaceable redhotjazz site if you have Real Audio.

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March 15, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/8/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #693:

Paul Whiteman – Greatest Hits 1920-27

The jazz snobs are gonna kill us for this one. Ninety years after the fact, Paul Whiteman is still paying for the hubris of calling himself the King of Jazz in an era when Jelly Roll Morton was hot and Duke Ellington was coming up. Almost a century later, it doesn’t even seem that anybody wants to download his stuff. Which is too bad. His shtick was lushly ecstatic, lavish orchestrations of the hits of the day. In the 1920s, there were thousands of hot jazz bands working regional circuits all over the country – in fact, outside of the US as well – but nobody with the juice that Whiteman had, nor as much access to the new phenomenon of radio. Whatever you think of his arrangements, you can’t fault his taste: he was the first to have a hit with Rhapsody in Blue. This popular 1950s vinyl reissue – still kicking around used record stores – collects a lot but not all of the big hits, extending as far as 1932 (the album title actually gets it wrong). Can you argue with Paul Robeson doing Old Man River? Bix Beiderbecke on cornet on Ramona? The irresistibly towering grandeur that the band gives catchy pop songs like Japanese Sandman, Whiteman’s signature song Whispering, or My Blue Heaven? There’s also cinematic stuff like Valencia, Birth of the Blues and Song of India as well as comedic but still charming material including the cartoonish I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise and the Three O’Clock in the Morning Waltz among the almost two dozen tracks here. A rigorous search of the sharelockers didn’t turn up anything – if we find something more interesting than an anthology, we’ll put it up here.

March 8, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment