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CD Review: Charlie Dennard "Deep Blue"

Charlie Dennard – Piano, organ, keyboards

Doug Belote – Drums

Max Moran – Acoustic and electric bass

Steve Masakowski – Acoustic guitar

Brian Seeger – Electric guitar

Eric Lucero – Trumpet and flugelhorn

Ray Moore – Tenor and alto sax, flute

Marc Solis – Tenor, alto, baritone sax, flute, bass clarinet

Jason Mingledorf – Tenor sax, bass clarinet

Brad Walker – Tenor sax

Rick Trolsen – Trombone

Josh Geisler – Bansuri flute

Carlos Lopez – Percussion

Andrew McLean – Tabla, sarod

Keyboardist Charlie Dennard returns to his New Orleans influences on Deep Blue, a pleasant collection of original compositions. Dennard is the musical director for the Canadian, one-of-a-kind spectacle, Cirque du Soleil, yet he recorded this elegant album in his hometown with mostly local musicians.

On the opener, “St. Charles Strut,” drummer Doug Belote lays down a distinctly second-line parade beat. Dennard’s understated, polished lines lack the raw energy of the brass band parade; nevertheless, they are just as emotive and passionate. Bassist Max Moran contributes earthy, muscular vamps.

Meanwhile, the wistful and elegiac “Father” concludes the disc on a dramatic and lyrical note. Melancholic, but far from somber, Dennard lays down dense organ chords over which saxophonists Jason Mingledorf and Ray Moore alternate short wailing phrases with trumpeter Eric Lucero and trombonist Rick Trolsen. Guitarist Brian Seeger’s solo is blues-drenched as Dennard punctuates it with brief piano refrains. Here again, the New Orleans motifs are distinctly audible as this paean to Dennard’s recently departed dad has the celebratory mood of the city’s famed funerals.

Dennard, a protégé of pianist Ellis Marsalis, channels his mentor with resonant and crisp notes as he embellishes the main theme on “Mojave.” The intriguing tune also features some eastern flavors courtesy of Cirque Du Soleil colleagues: flutist Josh Geisler and percussionists Carlos Lopez and Andrew McClean.

Equally subtle and melodic is the poetic “Trois Fois” with its western classical hints. It builds on a laid-back ambience reminiscent of a late-night café, with Dennard’s rounded tones gliding against Moran’s dark reverberations and Belote’s soft rustling brushes. Another lilting piece is the title track with its undulating horn and woodwind frontline and sashaying rhythm section.

Although it is neither terribly innovative nor intellectually stimulating, Deep Blue is highly entertaining and enjoyable. It would make a perfect backdrop to a relaxing afternoon that allows the mind to wander and that raises the spirit.

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