Charlie Dennard – From Brazil To New Orleans – Self, 46:33 ****:

(Charlie Dennard – piano, synth, Hammond B-3, accordion, melodica, Fender Rhodes; plus numerous guest musicians)

Charlie Dennard is a  multi-dimensional keyboard player whose current gig is as musical director for Cirque de Soleil’s  touring production of Totem. Not content with the demands of that part of his life, he brought together a coterie of international musicians with the intent producing a concept album that would find the common musical elements of Brazil and New Orleans which has resulted in the “feijoada” entitled From Brazil To New Orleans.

Rather than fall back on the list of well-known Brazilian composers that are all too familiar to most listeners, Dennard has chosen to utilize the talents of some of Brazil’s lesser-known names with no diminution in the results.  Indeed, Dennard, in conjunction with Rafael Alterio, penned the opening track “Itape” which is a romp, with Dennard’s piano taking the lead and an interesting bansuri flute solo from Josh Geisler. “Capoeira Mata Un” is the first of two tunes that have very large ten piece ensembles, the other being  “Quando o Galo Cantar”. Anyone who has watched the terrific HBO series Treme will be familiar with a New Orleans second-line concept which these two pieces have integrated as part of their musical construct. Driven by a strong percussive beat, each makes full use of the muscularity of the horn sections which has created a harmonious texture of sound.

“Asa Branca” is an exotic creation lead by Josh Geisler’s bansuri flute but with a very long solo exploration by Dennard on piano which has subtle colours of expression in a rather shadowy style. There are a couple of quartet pieces that also work really well. One is Dennard’s own composition “Valsa Luisiana” which has a bluesy soul-jazz feel with Dennard using the Fender Rhodes to good effect supported by some great guitar licks from Brian Seeger. The other is “Africa Mae” with Dennard on the Hammond B-3 in an up-tempo mood where he captures the harmonic language of this Afro-Brazilian composition with percussionist Billy Hulting moving the band forward in a no-nonsense style. All in all this is an interesting excursion into a little explored musical genre. [The recent rebirth of interest in the Hammond B-3 is a wonderful addition to jazz, but why do keyboardists still like the Fender Rhodes?…Ed.]

TrackList: Itape; Capoeira Mata Un; Abrindo a Porta; Asa Branca;  Quando o Galo Cantar; Senhorinha; Valsa Luisiana; Africa Mae; Ganga Zumbi

—Pierre Giroux