The superb vocal harmony group DUCHESS has released their second CD, LAUGHING AT LIFE, and it’s a wonder.
Here’s a sample of their originality, energy, and fun: EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, at the Jazz Standard, accompanied by Michael Cabe, piano; Matt Aronoff, string bass; Jared Schonig, drums.
For those of you who, like me, didn’t catch every rapid-fire turn of the new “original” lyrics, here they are in slow-motion print:
How did the Bozzie’s do their rapid-fire scatting
When they yes-siggle-dirred when they double dogged their Latin
There were so many words just a flyin’ and a rat-n-tatting how?
Vet, Martha, Connie gave us all the Heebie Jeebies
Said Duchess ought to try it but you know it isn’t easy
So we gotta tip our hat to the Bozzie’s oh, they really dazzle, wow!
Harmony and hijinks are the currency we deal in
Though we love the Bozzie’s honey, no we ain’t a-stealin’
Got a style that’s all our own and we know it’s so appealing here and now!
There’s only one problem with that gloriously expert and exuberant video. A casual viewer might assume, “Oh, that’s a Boswell Sisters cover band,” in the odd parlance of this century, drop this versatile trio into a convenient classification, and be completely wrong. Someone else might misread the group because of their “vintage” twentieth-century repertoire.
But DUCHESS is not a tour of the local museum of past greatness, and no one pretends to be anyone else.
The glory of this group is their quirky sweet transforming energy, which enables them to do so many things so beautifully and with such deep emotions. LAUGHING AT LIFE is a wonderful showcase for their swinging versatilities.
The CD’s delights begin early, with a modern-Basie version of SWING, BROTHER, SWING — where one can delight in the three piquant voices and their distinctive blend (as well as a solo by postmodern intergalactic rhythm ‘n’ blues tenorist Jeff Lederer).
Then they move into familiar (and possibly dangerous) territory . . . the 1930 SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, a song that I would guess no one has ever called “dangerous.” But as a song, it has become over-familiar and thus open to formulaic run-throughs in the same way as PENNIES FROM HEAVEN. But halfway through this track, after a pleasing rhythm-section interlude, something magical happens. Whitney Balliett called a similar instrumental passage “slow-motion leapfrog,” and on this track, the three voices slide over one another, each singer starting a phrase in a different place, creating a kind of three-dimensional cathedral of sounds.
There’s the rubato voices-plus-Michael Cabe’s sensitive piano reading of the verse of LAUGHING AT LIFE. Then, Amy Cervini’s quite definite reading of GIVE HIM THE OO LA LA, with a fine solo from guitarist Jesse Lewis, a wooing WHERE WOULD YOU BE WITHOUT ME? featuring Melissa Stylianou, and a down-home frolic by Hilary Gardner on HALLELUJAH, I LOVE HIM SO!
The tender ache of EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE is followed by the hilarity of STRIP POLKA (thank you, Mister Mercer!). And the bonus track, DAWN, a song known to only a few, is immensely touching — its author is someone we honor for other reasons.
Buy the CD and find out all. I didn’t linger over every track for its delights: you can find the little bowers of bliss for yourself.
DUCHESS fans already know this, but it bears repeating: each of the three singers is a very distinctive soloist, but their blending is impeccable: their intonation and diction are splendid. The clever and witty arrangements are complex, but only truly attentive listeners will understand just how beautifully layered they are — a key change here, an almost unnoticed shift from a lead voice with support to a unison ensemble, and more. Incidentally, there are guest appearances by clarinetist Anat Cohen and trombonist / vocalist Wycliffe Gordon to add to the mix.
Learn all the secrets here, and follow Duchess on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook if you while away the hours in such revelries. But most important, here you can purchase / download the CD through Bandcamp. Amazon, or iTunes. You’ll find it extremely rewarding.
May your happiness increase!