Though she was born and raised in Maine and studied vocal jazz at NEC, Heather Masse remains best known for her now decade-long membership in the Canadian folk/bluegrass trio the Wailin’ Jennys and her frequent appearances, with and without the group, on A Prairie Home Companion. Masse first met Roswell Rudd when he guested on the public radio show four years ago. They discovered they were neighbors in upstate New York and began regularly traveling the eight miles between their homes to make music, their unusual combination of voice and trombone often augmented by guitarist Rolf Sturm. On August Love Song, their debut recording, the threesome expands to welcome double bassist Mark Helias.
With his distinctive punches and slurps, Rudd, one of the most versatile trombonists in jazz, provides a marvelously arresting counterpoint to Masse’s dense, honeyed sound. While they winningly explore an interesting cross-section of standards-including a slithery “Love Is Here to Stay,” a fogbound “Mood Indigo” and a sprightly “Social Call” dusted with just the right hint of melancholy-there’s equal emphasis on original tunes. Rudd contributes the bouncy “Open House” and storm-clouded “Winter Blues.” Masse adds the sun-dappled “Love Song for August” (written for her young son) and, true to her folk leanings, “Blackstrap Molasses” (twined with “Old Devil Moon”). But the two most intriguing compositions come from celebrated ethnomusicologist and educator Verna Gillis, Rudd’s professional and personal partner-the lanky pep of “I’m Going Sane (One Day at a Time)” offset by her delightfully quirky, countrified tale of “Tova and Kyla Rain.”