As a longtime musical director for Cirque du Soleil productions, pianist Charlie Dennard has become well-versed in playing to texture, nuance, and emotion in varied environments. And as a resident of New Orleans with a performer’s passion for everything from blues to jazz to world music, he continually displays openness to disparate influences and a high degree of flexibility in his approach to composition and collaboration. All of these skills serve him well on this, his fourth album.
Dennard, bassist Max Moran, and drummer Doug Belote serve as the base ingredients for these originals, but a good number of the tracks are seasoned with guests. NOLA icon Steve Masakowski drops in with acoustic guitar for the Ralph Towner-inspired “Wanderlust,” and the nicely matched pair of tenor saxophonist Brad Walker and trumpeter Eric Lucero visit on the introspective title track. Dennard also includes two dissimilar octet pieces: “Mojave,” an exotic straight-time journey with bansuri flute, sarod, and tabla in the mix, and “Father,” a slow and soulful closer with horns and the song’s co-writer, guitarist Brian Seeger, adding volumes to the atmosphere.
All by its lonesome, the core trio magnifies the charms that characterize Dennard’s work. “St. Charles Strut,” bounding along on a variant of Vernel Fournier’s “Poinciana” groove, gives the leader’s fingers a chance to take an unhurried stroll, and the gently waltzing “Trois Fois” plays as love wrapped in a breeze. Balancing the sweet and sleek, Dennard pays tribute to Joe Sample on the heartfelt “Joe’s Crusade.” One might gripe about a lack of fire in the music, but Dennard typically turns that potential weakness into a strength. His collectedness carries the day.