January 21, 2019. Charlie Dennard doesn’t waste much time on his new album, Deep Blue, before paying homage to his adopted home. The longtime New Orleans keyboardist immediately announces a Crescent City connection, opening the album with “St. Charles Strut,” with an unmistakably New Orleanian second-line drum beat.
But Deep Blue is much more than Dixieland influence. It reflects the eclectic sensibilities of the type of musician who runs off and joins the circus. Literally. Dennard spent years traveling the world as the music director for Cirque du Soleil. And nowhere on the album is this global influence more apparent than on the second track, “Mojave,” where he’s enlisted the help of Cirque du Soleil compatriots, John Geisler (bansuri flute), Marc Solis (winds), and Carlos Lopez (percussion), who imbue the proceedings with the feel of a noir-ish thriller set amidst rolling dunes and desert oases.
Still, though Dennard nods to his own unyielding sense of wanderlust and influences both local and global (see track three titled, appropriately, “Wanderlust,” and keep an ear out to really hear the existential searching in the guitar playing), his playing is melodic and evenhanded, elegant in an understated and introspective way. This stylistic temperament he attributes to Ellis Marsalis, under whom Dennard studied as a graduate student at the University of New Orleans.
The album concludes with its most soulful offering, the bluesy “Father,” named for Dennard’s dad, who passed shortly after Deep Blue was recorded. Punctuated by smoky contributions on electric guitar, tenor sax and trumpet, Dennard moves to the organ on this one, undergirding the track with a spirituality that emanates gratitude, as it lovingly says goodbye.