Heather Masse / Roswell Rudd

August Love Song

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The unlikely pairing of vanguard trombonist Roswell Rudd and folk singer/songwriter Heather Masse is, on the surface at least, provocative. The two met during a Prairie Home Companion radio broadcast and discovered they lived only a few miles apart. They undertook a series of informal recording sessions -- with bassist Mark Helias and guitarist Ralf Sturn -- that evolved into August Love Song. Rudd draws on his love of Dixieland, pre-bop swing, and the influence of Kid Ory and Jack Teagarden. Masse -- a member of the Wailin' Jennys -- is possessed of a glorious, disciplined alto. She's revealed her considerable jazz chops before with 2013's beautiful Lock My Heart with Dick Hyman in 2013. Masse and Rudd contribute a pair of tunes each; the trombonist's wife-manager, Verna Gillis, also wrote a pair. The balance is comprised of ingenious, celebratory readings of jazz standards. The reading of Gigi Gryce's sprightly "Social Call" is in a class with Betty Carter's version with pianist Ray Bryant. Masse's elastic phrasing adds another level of depth and swing. The singer's "Love Song for August" commences as an a cappella folk song that evolves into a slow jazz blues with Helias walking the bassline. Sturn's colorful playing creates a bottom for Rudd, who responds to Masse with boozy improvised fills. The trombonist's "Winter Blues" commences with a brief avant solo from Helias before referencing Burt Bacharach's melody for "The Look of Love" and transforms into a languid, airy blues with muted trombone -- and gorgeous lyrics. Sturn's solid rhythmic playing frees Masse to engage in inventive scat-singing through most of her range. Rudd quotes "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" in his rowdy solo intro to Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo," which evolves into a sultry vocal and trombone duet. Rudd's syncopated playing punctuates Masse's lines with warmth, wry humor, and rhythmic acumen. Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" is equal parts jazz-pop ballad, folk song, and Mexican ranchera (the latter thanks in large part to Sturn's canny sense of harmony and rhythm). Rudd's "Open House" is a finger-poppin' Hot Club of France-styled swinger, while Masse's dark, Americana-tinged "Blackstrap Molasses" is the first half of a medley that gets transformed effortlessly into "Old Devil Moon" with an excellent Helias solo and scatting. Gillis' "Tova and Kyla Rain" is a country-folk song. Masse handles its tender melody with soulful authority while Rudd employs Teagarden-esque New Orleans R&B in his fills and solo, adding color and texture. The Gershwins' "Love Is Here to Stay" closes on an ingenious note: the interplay between the principals. August Love Song's gift is that it feels simultaneously modern and classic. There isn't a hint of nostalgia either (save for the cover that directly evokes the font from the paperback version of Herman Raucher's novel Summer of '42). Ultimately, the sincere desire for collaborative discovery by these players results in sheer delight for the listener.

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