SINGER Laurel Masse's new album, "Again," is full of surprises, and yet in some ways it's not surprising at all. "Jumpin' at the Woodside," "Oleo" and other uptempo tunes are laced with harmonic twists and turns, for example, but anyone familiar with Masse's seven-year stint with Manhattan Transfer or her subsequent solo albums will feel a certain familiarity with the ground she covers.
Certainly the ease with which Masse negotiates the tricky contours found on the riffing "Woodside" or the boppish "Oleo," both turned into breathless vocalese sprees a` la Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, won't disappoint longtime fans. Nor will her horn-like reading of "I've Got the World on a String," which boasts the album's most colorful, clever and engaging arrangement. When it comes to octave-leaping agility, after all, Masse's voice has few rivals.
While the nature of her pure soprano sometimes conjures a mood more ethereal than expressive on ballads, here Masse has come up with lovely, understated and often poignant versions of "Lazy Afternoon" and the album's title track to complement her flair for the free and fanciful. The result is her most consistent and satisfying album yet.
LAUREL MASSE -- "Again" (Disques Beaupre). Appearing Friday at Baird Auditorium in the National Museum of Natural History.