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Duchess: Laughing at Life (Anzic)

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Duchess: Laughing at Life
Duchess: Laughing at Life

Vocal supergroups tend to be transitory coteries. When Luciana Souza, Theo Bleckmann, Peter Eldridge, Kate McGarry and Lauren Kinhan assembled as MOSS, they delivered just one album; likewise the Kinhan/Janis Siegel/Laurel Massé summit JaLaLa (though rumors of a reunion persist). And the landmark Four Brothers—Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks, Kurt Elling, Kevin Mahogany—toured but never recorded. Fortunately Duchess, the dynamic trio of Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou, has survived beyond its 2015 debut to shape this equally vibrant follow-up, with pianist Michael Cabe again anchoring a solid rhythm section.

Reinvigorating the vintage swing and seamless harmonies of the Boswell and Andrews sisters, Duchess’ mandate is serious fun—superior musicianship with plenty of verve and more than a touch of whimsy. The zestful threesome shimmies through “Swing Brother Swing,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” Johnny Mercer’s saucy “Strip Polka” and the urbane, Sinatra-associated “Here’s to the Losers.” The trio explores opposite poles of the Cole Porter songbook with the winking “Give Him the Ooh-La-La” and forlorn “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” and unearths the previously unrecorded “Dawn,” a dreamy ballad composed by the youngest of the Boswells, Helvetia. Gardner channels Peggy Lee across a bubbly “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” while Stylianou propels the brassy Broadway rarity “Where Would You Be Without Me?” It’s all delightful, particularly their breezy “We’ll Meet Again” featuring clarinetist Anat Cohen and a slithery, soigné take on “Creole Love Call,” incorporating Ray Charles-worthy vocal accompaniment by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon.

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