Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Charlie Dennard's Deep Blue

It hasn't been a bad winter this year, but it's been a strange one. We've been dipping into sub-zero temps for the first time since I moved to New York, three years now, but then we'll have a couple of warm days and all the snow will melt and we'll be looking at our still green lawns and uncollected piles of dead leaves for at least a week. We had a White Thanksgiving--heck, we almost had a White Halloween, but Christmas was not white. Neither was the New Year. Then you wake up on a day like today, close to the middle of February and you wake up to a big snowstorm and suddenly everything seems to be chugging along like it should. So you stay indoors, and you listen to jazz, and the two forge together into one memory.

I think there's a strong bond between jazz and winter, and albums such as Charlie Dennard's Deep Blue prove that. Dennard is a pianist, based in New Orleans, and that seems a little odd since there isn't that much of New Orleans in these seven compositions. To me, there's the somber and reserved tone to everything, a measured calmness that feels all snowy New England to me. This is the same place, the same geographic region where the Vince Guaraldi Trio provided the legendary soundtrack for some animated TV show in the mid '60s. At least that's how I see it.

Deep Blue has all those subtleties down, knowing how to be whimsical without cracking a smile, coaxing you into floating by its side with just a shade of the hypnotic. This is impressive since most of the album is performed by a core trio that includes bassist Max Moran and drummer Doug Belote. Occasional guest appearances from a wide swath of musicians allows some of the songs to expand and contract into specific moods, but that same steady flow keeps moving forward, never veering and never looking down. That comes from the trio.

Dennard's been around for a while, spending the last 20 years playing the clubs in New Orleans with famous friends including his teacher, Ellis Marsalis. If I hear New Orleans anywhere in this album it's when there are more performers on the stage, or even a single electric guitar solo that strolls over to the blues for a song or two. Dennard's switch to organ on a couple of numbers also changes the mood significantly, one where the nights are a lot warmer. But the entire point here is that link this music has made to this day, and how this superb album will always remind me of a snowy, windy yet relatively peaceful morning.

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