Duchess – the trio featuring rising-star New York singers Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner & Melissa Stylianou – has won hearts far and wide with its insouciant swing, sweet-toned harmonies and a stage presence that has proved irresistible to audiences from coast to coast, across Canada and even in Israel. In the words of The New Yorker, these virtuoso entertainers “traffic in delight,” as they channel the inspiration of vintage vocal trios into a fun-loving package that feels utterly up-to-date. Reviewing Duchess’s 2015 eponymous debut album, DownBeat declared the trio “a beacon of jovial esprit,” with Time Out New York praising the disc as “playful… elegant… winning.” Now Duchess presents its second album: Laughing at Life, to be released by Anzic Records on February 10, 2017. The track list includes beloved songs by Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington and Ray Charles, as well as lesser-known numbers given the infectious Duchess spin.
Produced, like the trio’s debut album, by arranger Oded-Lev Ari, Laughing at Life pairs Duchess with an ace New York band: pianist Michael Cabe, bassist Matt Aronoff and drummer Jared Schonig, plus saxophonist Jeff Lederer and guitarist Jesse Lewis. There are two guest stars: Anat Cohen (clarinet) and Wycliffe Gordon (trombone and vocals). Highlights of Laughing at Life include a finger-snapping take on the Billie Holiday/Count Basie number “Swing Brother Swing!” The band grooves beautifully behind the singers in “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” while Cole Porter’s ballad “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” comes to life thanks to the purity of the Duchess vocal weave. And the trio presents the previously unrecorded “Dawn,” a mellifluous song co-written decades ago by Vet Boswell, youngest of 1930s close-harmony trio the Boswell Sisters of New Orleans, a key historic muse for Duchess.
Laughing at Life also includes a nod to the Andrews Sisters in Johnny Mercer’s “Strip Polka,” with a burlesque-worthy sax solo by Lederer. Cohen threads curlicues of clarinet through “Everybody Loves My Baby” (a popular feature for the Boswell Sisters in 1932), and Gordon contributes textured trombone and voice to his ravishing arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call.” There are solo spots for each of the Duchess ladies, with Cervini taking the lead on Cole Porter’s sweetly risqué “Give Him the Oo La La,” Stylianou on Broadway-via-Carmen McRae number “Where Would You Be Without Me?” and Gardner on Peggy Lee’s customization of an iconic Ray Charles tune as “Hallelujah, I Love Him So.” The bonus track for the vinyl edition of Laughing at Life is “Goin’ Home,” Lev-Ari’s hushed arrangement of the spirituals-inspired melody from Dvorák’s “New World” Symphony