WBGO Radar

Charlie Dennard: From Brazil To New Orleans

Album image

Charlie Dennard is a true traveler, but not a rolling stone: wherever he goes, the Alabama-born keyboardist puts down roots. 

Or he lets the roots rise to him, as on his new CD From Brazil To New Orleans.

The album's title rightly describes the direction of Dennard's journey, and the way he combines influences from his two adopted homes: the Crescent City, where he studied with pianist Ellis Marsalis and currently lives, and Sao Paulo, where he met his wife, artist Mariana Alterio.

Dennard’s work as musical director for Cirque de Soleil, a post he has held for the past twelve years, first brought him to Brazil. Once there, he helped a Brazilian troupe-mate, Marcos Casuo, start his own homegrown circus, and also fell in love.

Fortunately for the pianist, Alterio comes from a distinguished musical family. Her parents Raphael and Rita wrote the songs “Itape” and “Quando O Galo Cantar” on the album, and her brother  Pedro wrote “Abrindo A Porta.”

Other tracks demonstrate Dennard’s thoughtful attentiveness to Brazil’s rich musical traditions: he chose songs by Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira, Guinga and Sergio Santos, all beloved songwriters in Brazil but largely unknown in the U.S.

Dennard is not trying to out-Brazilian any Brazilians here, but rather, to create a genuine middle ground between two traditions.

The results are atmospheric and inviting, and will feel at home to anyone who enjoys the ways guitarist Pat Metheny has subtly infused his compositions with a Brazilian tinge over the years.

The album’s engine room is from New Orleans, with Gerald French drums, Matt Perrine on bass, Rick Trolsen on trombone and Michael Skinkus on percussion. Their second-line approach can best be felt on upbeat tracks like “Capoeira Mata Um” and “Quando O Galo Cantar.”

Brazilian singer Tatiana Parra joins the band for the disc’s wonderful closer, “Ganga Zumbi.”

Clearly, Charlie Dennard knows how to graciously accept a musical invitation. We do well to accept the invitation he now graciously extends to us, and his choice to generously share his own musical good fortune with us in this way.

   - Tim Wilkins, WBGO digital content producer

The audio for this Radar is no longer available. Visit iTunes or Amazon to preview and purchase.

Checkout more WBGO Radar...