Tag Archives: Amy Cervini

HARMONY AND HIJINKS: DUCHESS, “LAUGHING AT LIFE”

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DUCHESS: Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, Melissa Stylianou

The superb vocal harmony group DUCHESS has released their second CD, LAUGHING AT LIFE, and it’s a wonder.

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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!

 

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HOLIDAY GREETINGS FROM DUCHESS, “A CHRISTMAS COMPROMISE,” (December 17, 2015)

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The wonderful vocal trio DUCHESS mixes sharp wit, sweet sentiment, and uplifting swing.  Thanks to Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou for this restorative holiday song, A CHRISTMAS COMPROMISE, originally performed by “the bird and the bee.”  You can’t see him, but the invaluable Michael Cabe is at the piano.

It’s the one song I know of that addresses the potentially stressful situation where one partner wants all the Christmas accoutrements and the other one comes from another tradition — Doin’ the Uptown Inter-faith, as the Mills Blue Rhythm Band called it in 1933 on a disc never released.

This nifty performance comes from their set at a benefit for WBAI’s David Kenney and his long-running radio show, EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN, an evening at the Metropolitan Room, December 17, 2015.

If you weren’t there on the 17th — and the room was full of the trio’s fans — you can follow these members of the nobility here or here to find out their schedule here and abroad.

Wishing you holidays where all the necessary compromises are joyous, enacted to the sound of lovely music.

May your happiness increase!

DUCHESS IS TWO (AND WE ARE GLAD)

Happy Birthday, Duchess! That's Amy, Hilary, and Melissa.

Happy Birthday, Duchess! That’s Amy, Hilary, and Melissa.

DUCHESS is two.  If you know them, that is cause for celebration: they are a witty, swinging, tender, hilarious vocal trio: Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, Melissa Stylianou.  Their repertoire is inspired by the Sisters Boswell and Andrews, but they are far from a repertory company of old-records-brought-to-life, and they have singular energy and snap.  If DUCHESS is new to you, prepare to be cheered and elated.

At their October 16 concert at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City (a most congenial place to wander in as well as a comfortable venue for music) they were supported by Jeff Lederer, reeds; Michael Cabe, piano; Elias Bailey, string bass;  Jesse Lewis, guitar.  The show was billed as DUCHESS UNPLUGGED, so (with regrets) they left their percussionist at home and performed with very little electrical or electronic assistance.  I was thrilled to be invited to the Rubin concert and brought back for the JAZZ LIVES audience four new videos of DUCHESS doing what they do best — enthusiastic, expert harmony and solo singing, beautifully and warmly accomplished.

Remembering the Rhythm Boys, Bix and  Bing, THERE AIN’T NO SWEET MAN (THAT’S WORTH THE SALT OF MY TEARS):

For those three Greek women who went before, THREE LITTLE SISTERS:

And those harmony masters from New Orleans, EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Finally, by special request (mine) the very tender P.S., I LOVE YOU:

And since you’ll now want to learn more about DUCHESS, follow them to other gigs, and buy their wonderful CD, some cyber-data.

Here is their YouTube channel; here is their website; here is their Facebook page; here is my enthusiastic review of their debut CD.

Two other thoughts.  I am always moderately proud of my videos as one kind of representation of an experience, but DUCHESS is a more vivid experience than even the best cameras could capture.  They do that rare thing — sometimes lost in this century — of providing inventive music while entertaining us.  And I don’t think “entertainment” is a negative word.  So you could take someone to hear DUCHESS even if that person steadfastly says, “I don’t like jazz.  I don’t understand it,” and there would be a sweet (subversive) conversion experience before the night was through.  If this sounds like a not-terribly subtle encouragement to see DUCHESS live, it is.  We wish them many more birthdays.

May your happiness increase!

“DUCHESS” SWINGS BY, ON DISC AND IN PERSON

A delicious new group has made an equally satisfying debut CD.  See here!

DUCHESS — an ebullient female trio — is quirky, swinging, silly, and loose but exact.  The three “girl singers,” justly known for their own solo work, are Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, Melissa Stylianou — listed here in alphabetical order, no ranking implied — and they are backed by swinging modernists  —  Michael Cabe, piano; Paul Sikivie, string bass; Matt Wilson, drums; Jeff Lederer, saxophone (1, 5, 6, 9, 11); Jesse Lewis, guitar (1, 2, 7, 8).  The surprising and fresh arrangements are by producer Oded Lev-Ari for their debut CD on the Anzic label.  You can read more about DUCHESS here.

Many jazz groups have clear antecedents or they follow a pattern (you can provide your own examples here).  But I don’t think there’s been any group like DUCHESS for decades.  This isn’t to suggest that they are a conscious re-enactment of the past, although they do perform one spiffy homage to the Boswell Sisters on HEEBIE JEEBIES.  They are inspired by Connie, Vet, and Martha, but in the most inventive way — their close harmony performances are startlingly alive and full of surprises, tempo changes, and sophisticated play.

Each track is a miniature symphony for voices, shifting their places in the great musical dance, and a lively improvising ensemble.  For one instance — there is a famous second bridge to P.S., I LOVE YOU (which I know from Sinatra’s Capitol version): in this new version, each of the singers takes one line in the bridge, something so pleasingly startling that I had to play the track again to be sure I’d heard correctly.

The atmosphere isn’t a re-creation of the Boswell Sisters’ recordings or of their “approach” in some mechanistic way, but DUCHESS seems — to my ears, anyway, to play with the question, “What would the cheerful radicalism of the Sisters’ elastic improvisations be like with three different singers and a new band, all of us fully cognizant of what has come after 1936?”  So one hears a rhythmic pulse that evokes the Basie band brought forward in to this century, and tenor saxophone playing that sounds like Paul Gonsalves, updated and made even more personal.  The magnificently musical drumming of Matt Wilson drives it all along, with quiet brushwork when the mood requires it.

This is one of those CDs that doesn’t fully reveal all its pleasures or exhaust itself on one hearing.  I was so delighted, listening to voices and instruments tumbling over each other in neatly acrobatic exuberance, that I haven’t yet figured everything out (who is that singing now; who’s leading the harmony?) after several listenings.  I can only say that the three voices are singular in themselves, in range, timbre, and sound, but that they blend marvelously. And the blending is anything but formulaic.  One can’t go to sleep while DUCHESS is romping.  Their simple cheerfulness blasts through LOVE BEING HERE WITH YOU, LOLLIPOP, the aforementioned HEEBIE JEEBIES, and even in the medium-tempo swaggering performance I hear the whole group grinning.  But for me the real triumphs are the more tender offerings: a melting QUE SERA, SERA, P.S., I LOVE YOU; a shape-shifting I’LL BE SEEING YOU, and BLAH, BLAH, BLAH — that most surprising comic love poem.

Speaking of BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, here’s the group’s live performance of that Gershwin opus at their home base, the 55 Bar:

This points up another facet of DUCHESS — their willingness to traverse the ground between silly and witty.  They aren’t slapsticky in their comedy, but their light-hearted approach is elevating.  And they are never blah.

Here are the songs on the CD:

1. “I Love Being Here with You” (Peggy Lee, Bill Schluger) / 2. “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” (Fred Fisher) / 3. “Que Sera, Sera” (Jay Livingston, Ray Evans) / 4. “My Brooklyn Love Song” (Ramey Idriss, George Tibbles, featuring Hilary) / 5. “A Doodlin’ Song” (Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, featuring Amy) / 6. “A Little Jive Is Good for You” (Ralph Yaw) / 7. “P.S. I Love You” (Johnny Mercer, Gordon Jenkins) / 8. “Hummin’ to Myself” (Sammy Fain, Herb Magidson, Monty Siegel, featuring Melissa) / 9. “It’s a Man” (Cy Coben) / 10. “I’ll Be Seeing You” (Irving Kahal, Sammy Fain) / 11. “Lollipop” (Beverly Ross, Julius Dixon) / 12. “Blah, Blah, Blah” (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin) / 13. “Heebie Jeebies” (Boyd Atkins)

You can bring some of this joy into your life with the CD, or, if you are in the tri-state area, you should know that DUCHESS, backed by the same band as on the album, will perform an album-release show at New York City’s Jazz Standard on March 3, 2015.

In most time zones, that’s tomorrow.

Shows are at 7:30 and 10 PM, and you can buy tickets and learn more about the group here.

May your happiness increase!

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