Artist: Roswell Rudd & Heather Masse
Album: August Love Song
Label: Red House
Release Date: 02/26/2016
Following her romantic standards release, Lock My Heart (2013), with pianist Dick Hyman, Wailin’ Jennys and jazz vocalist Heather Masse again pairs up with an octogenarian. This time she joins free spirit and avant-garde trombonist Roswell Rudd for an even more adventurous outing. When I first saw this collaboration, I did a double take, thinking back to Rudd’s work with Archie Shepp, especially on Shepp’s Four for Trane as well as some of Roswell’s world music forays. I wondered how the more traditional Masse would jive with Rudd’s stretching-the-boundaries approach. They do surprisingly well together. The expressive range of Masse’s voice, especially in the high registers, is uniquely balanced with the low, guttural trombone sound.
Masse and Rudd met on Prairie Home Companion and soon learned they lived eight miles apart in the Catskills. They felt a musical connection, and began playing together in Rudd’s living room. Masse says, “The trombone and voice seem like an unlikely duo, but Roswell and I found a blend, and presence with each other that, at its core, is two voices, listening and connecting with each other.” Rudd echoes, “We have the kind of sonic embrace—organic collaboration—that is rare, and with Heather it is exceptional.”
The two are joined by guitarist Rolf Sturm and contrabassist Mark Helias. The quartet performs originals by Rudd and his partner, Verna Gillis, as well by Masse, including the title track written for her three-year-old son, August. These originals are balanced and interspersed nicely in the album sequence with compositions by Gigi Gryce, the Gershwins, Duke Ellington, and Dizzy Gillespie. Rudd gets some interesting sounds out of his horn, mostly by playing it in a muted style. Perhaps the best example of the “two voices” Masse refers to in her aforementioned quote is in Gillis’ “I’m Goin’ Sane (One Day at a Time),” where Masse uses a scat-type style, even using her voice to create trills, in counterpoint to Rudd’s trombone.
A recent New York Times article on Rudd references his musical roots that trace back to rambling jam sessions his father would host in their home. Rudd explains, “It was a spontaneous thing. Suddenly a clarinet player shows up. Then a guy’s playing piano. My father’s on the drums over there. People start dancing; you hear laughter bursting out, and all kinds of conversation. That sound is what is still in me, and it seems to be inexhaustible….I have to keep going back to the weekend party sound in the house. I’ve got to blend in, at some point, with everybody.” While these compositions are carefully arranged and beautifully rendered, you can’t help but feel that loose spirit that Rudd was after. He and Masse are having fun.