'Rachael & Vilray' has been a musical act ever since Rachael saw me play a very short set of covers and said she wanted in. Her voice is singular, agile, beautiful, and, as I found when we started performing original music, the most rewarding instrument to write for. In the seven years since we began, our configuration has ranged from an intimate duo, to the 9-piece formation you hear on six of these tracks. No matter the set-up on stage, my friend Rachael and I sing right to each other, tell stories about how the songs came to be, and relate them to the many old love songs we love to love.
There's a lyric on this album that summarizes the qualifications of the musicians who made it: "we've all heard the legends." Each of us has keenly absorbed the work of a pantheon of jazz giants that inspires and informs this music. Just invoking the name of any one of these is efficient shorthand, positing an approach to a phrase or song. "Let's remember Louis Jordan," I said before the master take of "Why Do I?"" to encourage a jolt of the proto-rock'n'roll that was missing. Or when Rachael was considering how to clearly deliver a tricky line in "Hate is the Basis (of Love),"" I offered that I thought it was "a Betty Carter thing." Some names suggest a constellation of techniques, flourishes, and accents that illuminate a corner of the musical universe. And if these original songs provide any light, it is in great part a reflection of some past brilliance that we admire.
Inside Studio A at United Recording in Hollywood, for three and a half days in April, the company around us also felt legendary. Five superlative horn players steeped in the trad jazz scene, some going back forty years. A rhythm section comprised of three eminent session players who we've listened to and read about in DownBeat Magazine since high school. They told stories about playing with Benny Goodman, James Brown, Bill Evans, and Tony Bennett! And in the control room, keeping us on task, was Dan Knobler, who engineered, mixed, and produced this album, dynamically capturing the interplay between these wonderful musicians in the single open room we all shared.
Eleven of these songs are my own, and I'll say a bit about the thrill of writing in this style. I love stories told by characters. The era's repertoire is rooted in songs for theater and films, so a lot are written in the first person and from the perspective of a dramatis persona, rather than reflecting an omniscient narrator or the writer themself. I also love how the music of language is explored in this idiom. Three-in-one singer-lyricist-composers of the time — like Johnny Mercer or Peggy Lee — made clever use of slant rhymes and dense consonant combinations to propel the rhythm of their music. Their songs "ac-cent-tchu-ate" the chaotic and amusing ways that syllables run together, and how the mouth dances to put them across. Like Johnny and Peg, I love to write songs about feelings that feel good to sing.
– VILRAY, New York City, Summer 2022