During a trip to New York last summer, I finally made my first visit to the legendary Village Vanguard. The club was hosting a week of performances by a diverse slate of musicians tackling the latest book of compositions by John Zorn, the Bagatelles. I caught a set by pianist Craig Taborn that was every bit as brilliant as I expected, but a friend recommended I also check out another pianist I’d never heard of: Philadelphian Brian Marsella. He works with Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista in Banquet of the Spirits and plays in a group I’ve never cared much for called Fresh Cut Orchestra. But his set at the Vanguard, with bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Kenny Wollesen, knocked me out. Marsella had me thinking of individualists such as Herbie Nichols or Bud Powell playing at warp speed.
Last month that same group released Buer (Tzadik), the 31st volume in Zorn’s ambitious Book of Angels project—a huge collection of pieces he wrote for his quartet Masada that he’s enlisted a wide range of musicians to interpret. Marsella’s readings of the Jewish-flavored tunes have a chameleonic quality—he seems to reference different pianists and composers on different tunes, such as the heavy McCoy Tyner vibe on “Jekusiel” and the Bach fugue feel on “Kadmiel”—and everything he plays is animated by his electrifying confidence, fluidity, and imagination. His performances of the Bagatelles last summer were more unified than the whirlwind on this recording, so he’s clearly capable of zeroing in a specific tack, but I’ve been having a blast following his track-by-track shifts on Buer. Below you can check out one of the album’s most remarkable pieces, a version of “Parymel” on which Marsella channels the razor-sharp concision of Lennie Tristano and collides it with the high-energy clusters of Don Pullen.
Elliot Galvin Trio, Punch (Edition)
Angela & Jennifer Chun, Philip Glass/Nico Muhly (Harmonia Mundi)
Aziza, Aziza (Dare2)
Rozetta Johnson, A Woman’s Way: The Complete Rozetta Johnson 1963-1975 (Kent)
Various artists, Women in Electronic Music 1977 (New World)