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Nicholl and Farquharson: Della by Moonlight

C. Michael Bailey By

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Keyboardist Matthew Nicholl and bassist Michael Farquharson assemble an adult contemporary jazz suite on Della by Moonlight. To be clear, this is not smooth jazz, and while smooth jazz has its charms—accessibility and listening ease being two of them—Nicholl and Farquharson's music requires a little more than just passive listening. The additional attention is more than rewarded by the grace espoused by this music.

Della by Moonlight opens with "Nine Toes," brimming with a Miles Davis Tutu (Warner Bros. , 1986) vibe, featuring guitarist Tim Miller and tenor saxophonist Greg Badolat. Farquharson flexes his muscles melodically in his intelligent and inventive solo. The suite begins to open with the lyrical "Aytul's Waltz" taking on a more chamber orchestra-like performance, one highly nuanced in color and sonic texture. Still firmly in the jazz arena, the ensemble's performances stretch out both in time and material. As the suite passes into the "City Suite: Boston, Halifax, DC, Istanbul, al Perugia," the lyricism becomes more ruminative, revealing a soft counterpoint among the wind instruments. The personality of the sound could be Béla Bartók or a well-behaved {[Anthony Braxton}}.

Nicholl and Farquharson arrange their suite to develop slowly and thoroughly, growing more abstract and more Charles Ives and Aaron Copland in their more pastoral character as they span the cityscapes of Boston and Halifax. "City Suite: Istanbul" seamlessly adopts more Eastern harmonies that lay well with the more consonant Western melodies. The "Choro Suite" takes on a more Southern Hemisphere flavor that is humidly languid and relaxed. The title cut is the lengthiest piece on the disc, deliciously arranged with a "Pink Panther" vibe that both swings and swaggers. It serves as a fitting coda to this well-conceived, thematic series of compositions.

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