There are a fair number of vocal groups blending harmoniously and swinging through the jazz set today, but none are as charmingly sassy as DUCHESS. With two studio albums already under a collective beltactually three, if you include an under-the-radar Christmas setit only made sense for vocalists Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou to finally show the greater listening community what Duchess does on the stage.
Joining up with its regular rhythm sectionpianist Michael Cabe, guitarist Jesse Lewis, bassist Matt Aronoff and drummer Jared SchonigDUCHESS delivers a collection that's equally concerned with gaiety and focus. As on the trio's 2015 eponymous debutand the follow-up, Laughing At Life (Anzic, 2016)the music is tight and the performances are compact. But three or four minutes is all this crew really needs to sell a song, so there's no need to belabor the point(s). "Heebie Jeebies," for example, doles out tight, caffeinated lines, bluesy aplomb and some primo piano work from Cabe in short order. And "It's A Man," poking due fun at the not-so-fair sex while also beautifully hamming up the relationship dynamic, gets its wonderfully cheeky point across in the blink of an eye.
While Cervini, Gardner and Stylianou continue to nod to forebearers of the formatnotably their primary influence, The Boswell Sisters, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, The Andrews Sisters this program leaves little doubt as to their ability to stand on their own six feet. In tackling material from earlier dates, adding to their recorded catalog with familiar fare like "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and dusting off lesser-known delights such as "Joseph, Joseph" and the appropriately-adopted "Three Little Sisters" (complete with horn kazoo adornments), DUCHESS stands in no group's shadow.
These whip-smart women see to it that all of the musical details in chief arranger Oded Lev-Ari's charts are on point, and they also seriously deliver with some marvelous banter. Some tend to sanitize live recordings with the removal of repartee, but this crew does no such thing. Instead, with asides giving background on a song's journey, opportunities to witness some gal-palling around, and even a playful turn of the gender tables offering some good-natured male objectification, DUCHESS adds volumes to the album and outlines the full experience of a live show. Those of us who missed out on these gigs at New York's Jazz Standard in May of 2019 clearly should have been there. It's doubtful that there was as much positive energy going on anywhere else in those moments.
Introductions; (We) Love Being Here with You; Dialogue; Swing Brother Swing; Dialogue; Heebie Jeebies; Band
Introductions; It's a Man; Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen; On the Sunny Side of the Street; Dialogue; Joseph, Joseph; Dialogue;
Three Little Sisters; Dialogue; A Little Jive is Good for You; Creole Love Call; Dialogue; Chattanooga Choo Choo; Dialogue;
Everybody Loves My Baby.