Duchess channels the 1930s inspiration of the virtuosic Boswell Sisters into a wonderfully entertaining and contemporary package. The album was produced by Oded Lev-Ari, who helmed previous acclaimed Anzic releases by Cervini and Stylianou. The songs of Duchess range from the Peggy Lee number "I Love Being Here With You" and Johnny Mercer's "P.S. I Love You" to new twists on "Que Sera, Sera" and the indelible standard "I'll Be Seeing You." There's a playful Gershwin rarity with "Blah, Blah, Blah" and a direct Boswell Sisters homage with their arrangement of "Heebie Jeebies." And there are solo spots for each of the Duchess ladies with "My Brooklyn Love Song" (Hilary), "A Doodlin' Song" (Amy) and "Humming to Myself" (Melissa). A blend of the vintage and the fresh, Duchess is a fizzing cocktail of an album.
The group promises "three good-time gals singing together in harmony," Hilary says. "There's a big wink in what we do, a mix of levity and sincerity." Amy had sung previously many times with Hilary and Melissa, separately. It was the suggestion of Amy's husband - producer-arranger Oded Lev-Ari - to convene a threesome at one of her regular nights at the 55 Bar in the West Village, as he envisioned the trio sound in his head. Amy says: "We sang old Boswell Sisters and Andrew Sisters charts, and it went so well that Oded was inspired to write custom arrangements for us. He has a voice in this group, so much so that it's almost a quartet."
The historic muses for the Duchess sound are the Boswell Sisters, a trio from New Orleans whose pioneering close-harmony records for Brunswick in the Thirties are a prize in the jazz canon. "The Boswell Sisters were such originals," Hilary explains. "This kind of music got more conservative a decade later in the 1940s, with the Andrew Sisters taking the vocal trio format more mainstream, even though they were swinging and super-tight in their own way. But the Boswell Sisters had a kind of instrumental approach to harmony singing, and there was a wildness to what they did, with abrupt tempo changes, crazy harmonies and ensemble scatting as if they were singing from one brain. We love them. That said, we're not doing re-creations at all. Our voices, personalities and 21st-century sensibilities help impart individuality to what we're doing. We're making these songs our own, naturally. Oded's arrangements are tailored to our singing, and what Jeff Lederer plays isn't something that you'd hear on a Boswell Sisters record. It sounds like now."
Melissa shares a story about one of the best responses to the Duchess sound and sensibility: "It was from a musician, a vibes player who had a set after us at the 55 Bar. He came up to us and said, 'You know, the audience doesn't realize how difficult what you're doing really is. They're having too good of a time'."
May 16 / Cafe Noctambulo in NYC
June 20 / The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival
June 23 / The RegattaBar, Boston, MA
June 25 / The TD Toronto Jazz Festival
June 26 / The Xerox Rochester Int'l Jazz Festival
June 27 / Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival